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Austin Bide

Sir Austin Bide (1915-2008) was Chair of the Open University's Visiting Committee appointed by the Secretary of State for education from 1982 to 1990. As such, he can be credited with playing an important role in the University’s development and indeed survival in the face of government cuts.

Bide was born in 1915 in west London. At 17 he started work as a government scientist at the same time studying part-time at Birkbeck college and Chelsea polytechnic for a degree in chemistry. In 1940, a year after graduating, he started work for Glaxo. He moved from research into management, again studying part-time at LSE, eventually becoming chairman of Glaxo in 1973. He held the position he held until 1985, doubling the company’s expenditure on research, thereby massively expanding its position in the market. By the end of his chairmanship he had taken on a number of outside roles, amongst them, he was involved as director and later chairman of British Leyland. 

In 1982, Bide was appointed as Chair of The Open University’s Visiting Committee by Education Secretary Keith Joseph to advise the government on the funding of The Open University, which did not fall under the remit of the University Grants Committee as other universities did. The Visiting Committee also took on an additional quality assurance role, looking into allegations of bias in course materials.

By the mid-1980s the Visiting Committee was independently lobbying government on the University’s behalf. The then Vice-Chancellor John Horlock reported: ‘I could not have wished for stronger support from an independent body appointed by the Secretary of State.’ Bide stood down as chairman in 1990, and in 1992 the Visiting Committee was dissolved, direct government funding of the OU ceased, and the OU took its place alongside other universities under the Higher Education Funding Councils. In providing an independent but supportive assessment of the OU’s achievements to the government, Sir Austin became an important figure in OU history. He died in 2008, aged 92. 

You may also be interested in The role of the Visiting Committee and Going mainstream: the end of the Visiting Committee.