The Open University is marking its 50th anniversary this month by telling its remarkable story through the power of photographs, in a collection released today (Wednesday 17 April 2019).
Former and current OU students, including a Scottish student with muscular dystrophy, a prisoner turned academic, and a woman research pioneer in moon exploration, all feature in the new collection by world-famous British photographer Chris Floyd.
The Open University has grown from supporting 2,000 Scottish students in its first year of teaching to 16,500 students currently. More than 200,000 Scots have studied with the OU to date.
The OU is the largest university in the UK and supports students across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and around the world.
Director of The Open University in Scotland, Susan Stewart, said:
“I think what these really striking images show is that there’s no such thing as a typical Open University student. Fifty years on, we still hold true to our mission to be open to all and make higher education accessible for everyone, regardless of background or circumstances.
"Karis is a fantastic example of the dedication and resilience of OU students, and through this picture she makes a wonderful ambassador for The Open University in Scotland.”
Floyd’s photographs include a portrait of Karis Williamson, currently studying for her BA Open Honours Degree with The Open University in Scotland. Karis left school early, and started studying with the OU aged 16.
Karis, who has congenital muscular dystrophy, studies mostly at her home in Inverness where she has transformed her garden shed into a ‘Book Temple’.
Karis, who is one of over 24,000 disabled students currently studying with the OU – more than some universities’ entire student body – says of her experience:
“I love poetry and creative writing and after missing a few years of formal education, I wanted to re-discover learning, get a degree, and I felt that I was capable of it.
"Due to my illness I can never take tomorrow for granted and I wanted to squash in as much as possible while I can. The Student Support Team are fantastic and helped me to access the equipment I need to study and my tutors have been very supportive.
"I also felt that the team who supported my entry to the University were really behind me and wanted me to succeed."
Another of Floyd’s photographs features Hannah Sargeant, who is studying for her PhD in planetary science, with her research focused on the first mission to the south pole of the moon to extract water from moon matter – a revolutionary Space Agency mission that has never been done before.
Sargeant is breaking boundaries as one of the only women in the field of moon exploration, and credits the OU with her career progression:
“What The Open University has offered me is very unique – I’m able to do practical and potentially ground-breaking research in an institute that not only accepts, but encourages people who don’t fit an expected norm.
"My confidence in myself and my work has grown during my time at The Open University, and I’m now a STEM ambassador and want to encourage more young people to join the space industry.”
Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski, an OU graduate and former prisoner also features in the collection. He began studying with The Open University while serving a 16-year sentence and credits the university with helping him to turn his life around.
After studying Social Sciences in prison, he went on to join The Open University as a member of staff, where he now helps those studying in secure environments. Stephen said:
“Back then, I couldn’t even imagine the life I have now – I am an entirely different person, and for the better.
"Being given the opportunity to study for real, meaningful qualifications while in prison is a lifeline. My hope is that the work I do now can help other people who were in my situation build a better life for themselves.”
The special collection, titled 'The Open University: 50 years' also includes newly released archive images dating from 1969, when the ‘University of the Air’ was founded, including rare pictures from events such as the Foucault Experiment recreation, the Queen’s visit to campus, the OU’s first ever graduation ceremony at Alexandra Palace in London, and revolutionary home science equipment in use.
The full photography collection is available to view at: www.50.open.ac.uk
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