Expansion was a keyword for The Open University during the 1990s, and this included in the curriculum. New areas of study included English law (in association with the College of Law), modern languages and expanded programmes in most other faculties and schools.
The Centre for Modern Languages opened in 1990 and work began on the first ‘half-credit’ French course. By the end of the decade languages were firmly established as part of the OU curriculum. In May 1999 it was decided that the Centre for Modern Languages and the School of Education should join to form a new unit from 1 Sept 2000 – the Faculty of Education and Language Studies.
As part of its policy of providing a curriculum which offers both breadth and depth, the University continued to develop innovative courses to challenge conventional patterns of knowledge and learning by adopting interfaculty and interdisciplinary perspectives. In 1992 this was evident in new University-wide (U) courses such as U207 Issues in Women’s Studies and U208 Third World Development.
Meanwhile a significant restructuring of the qualifications on offer from The Open University took place throughout the decade. The University’s internal newspaper Open House said the 1992 Senate meeting that made the decision ‘will go down in history as the one that…made more fundamental and far-reaching changes to the OU than it has previously taken during the first two decades.
A new 360 point honours degree was brought in, replacing the existing course credit ratings, to fit in with greater student mobility between institutions after new legislation. ‘Level One’ was introduced as distinct from the traditional foundation courses. The BSc was introduced, and by 1994 was the qualification of choice for the majority of students.
Following a lengthy debate in the Senate and a prolonged campaign by OUSA, it was agreed to introduce named degrees by 2000. The decision, which meant students were able to study a prescribed programme of courses, added to the range of programmes on offer. The range was boosted further with the increased number of undergraduate certificates and diplomas, which also allowed subject-specific profiles within degrees.
What had started as part of the development of continuing education continued to thrive, now integrated into the OU mainstream. 1991 saw the first cohort of more than 200 MBA graduates and a visit from Virginia Bottomley to open the Horlock building for the Institute of Health, Welfare and Community Education. In 1997 the Open University Business School received the Queen’s Award for Export Development.
Postgraduate education was also developing. The Department for Education and Science asked the OU to develop a new PGCE. This was to be offered from 1994 and was enthusiastically received, later winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education.
The end of direct government control and the integration of the OU into the new Higher Education Funding Council for England meant that the University was for the first time subject to assessments of teaching quality. Following the completion in 1995 of the first cycle, out of 70 universities only 13 received ‘excellent’ ratings in more than half the subjects assessed including the OU. In 1996 the OU was ranked 10th of 77 English universities for the proportion of courses rated excellent.
By the end of the 1990s the OU was seriously considering its role in medical education and was invited by the funding council to progress plans in collaboration with the major medical schools. In March 1999 in partnership with Leeds, Exeter and Plymouth universities, the University bid to HEFCE and the DoH to set up an OU stage one course for Medicine which would cover the equivalent of the first two years of a full-time five year course in medicine. The University was unsuccessful; however it did receive a grant of £100,000 from the HEFCE restructuring and collaboration fund to assist in developing such partnerships.
Finally, a remarkable phenomenon in 2000 was the very high enrolment in two new level one courses. T171 You, Your Computer and the Net attracted 10,000 students and had to be presented for a second time in May, while DD100 An introduction to Social Science – Understanding Social Change drew 12,000 students. Between them these two courses accounted for 12 per cent of the 180,000 strong student body.