Skip to content The Open University

Featured articles

On 8 September 1980, a collaborative arrangement was signed with the British Council, the body...

Early curriculum

The first students studied either one or two from four foundation courses – in humanities, science, social sciences and mathematics. In the second year of accepting students, a fifth foundation course in technology was added alongside 11 second level courses. The number of different summer schools increased from four to twelve. By the end of the decade, the number of courses offered had expanded to 120.

The course team approach to course development was a revolutionary experience for British higher education, and is thought to have influenced other institutions. This extract from Open Forum 3 (1976) gave students a brief introduction to course teams.


The Student Computing Service started in 1970 as a sub unit of the Faculty of Mathematics to serve the M100 course. There were three HP 2000 computers, one each in Newcastle, London and Milton Keynes, which were dedicated to run BASIC. By 1973 Computer terminals were provided in OU study centres. Courses using this service included M251 An algorithmic approach to computing and PM951 Computers and computing. By 1978 TM221 The digital computer used an Opus Home Experiment Kit and D303, a cognitive psychology course, used the Artificial Intelligence language SOLO, devised by Marc Eisenstadt and implemented by Adam Gawronski. Information courtesy of the ‘a history of new technology at the OU’ wiki.

The University’s collaborative approach to course design encouraged innovation and course creation across non-traditional boundaries. In 1977 TAD292 Art and Environment was presented for the first time provoking some debate in art and academic circles and ‘strange activities at summer schools.’

The first accusations of ‘Marxist bias’ came in 1977 when University of Nottingham sociologist Professor Julius Gould accused the OU of Marxist bias in the Times Higher Education Supplement. The target was E202 Schooling and Society. Gould’s article was based on a report by the Institute for the Study of Conflict, headed by Brian Crozier, entitled ‘The attack on higher education: Marxist and radical penetration’. The Council commissioned a review of the specific allegations, and of the procedures whereby academic standards could be assured. Additional procedures were adopted to ensure maintenance of academic standards. 

See also Continuing education: making a start