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John Horlock served as Vice-Chancellor at The Open University from 1981 to 1990. John Horlock was...

About the History of The Open University research project

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This is the website of the History of The Open University project. 

This project is finished and this website is no longer updated.

The project, which took place from 2009-2012, was set up by the OU’s Vice Chancellor’s Executive, to deliver a high quality, accessible, multi-media history of The Open University, looking at the University’s contribution to numerous aspects of wider society and its significant impact upon students and their families.

The website covers elements of the University's history but there are still gaps that could be filled in the future.

All photographs on the site are OU copyright unless otherwise stated. All the audio-visual material on the site is also available to view via the History of the OU podcast.


This was a timely project. The future of higher education is under increased scrutiny and discussion, with the prospect of further cuts as public spending contracts. The nature and role of higher education and its impact on wider society faces examination as it justifies its existence and activities.

The sector has expanded and changed dramatically in the latter half of the twentieth century. The opening and expansion of The Open University, offering supported distance learning and a non-traditional route to a degree, has made a significant contribution to post-war higher education. It is believed to have influenced teaching in institutions across Britain and set an example that has been followed globally.

This project was able to look more closely at the University’s distinctive role nationally and internationally and its position in the worlds of adult, distance and higher education.

In order to create a balanced picture of the University, it was crucial that the project drew on the collective experience of its staff and students over forty years. To facilitate hearing a range of voices this website was originally set up to not only disseminate material from formal sources but also to showcase personal memories and views. These are featured and also contributed to other material produced by the project.

Other historical material

The project built on the experience of The Open University Oral History Project (2008-10) which collected more than 70 oral testimonies from individuals who had been staff and students at the OU. It has also drawn heavily on material collected by the University Archive, which as well as containing material from the University itself, looks after specific donated collections such as those from Jennie Lee, the minister responsible for founding the OU, Walter Perry, the first Vice-Chancellor, and Betty Boothroyd, the former Chancellor.

The future

This website is now a resource for those interested in the history of the Open University and its wider relationships in the run up to its fiftieth birthday in 2019.

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Research on this project was carried out by Dr Daniel Weinbren.