Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Former OU PVC goes online

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Coursera  calls itself a ‘social entrepreneurship company’ which aims to deliver online courses. Founded by two academics from Stanford University and funded to the tune of $22m by the computer industries, it claims to offer ‘education for everyone’ by providing courses from its partner universities. These include  the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Virginia, Rice University, UC San Francisco, University of Illinois and University of Washington and also Toronto in Canada and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Coursera does not offer degrees, but students can be awarded certificates. (more…)

Markets, Expertise and the Public University: A crisis in knowledge for democracy?

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Regular readers will know that we often stress that one of the roots of the OU lies in the social democracy post-war welfare settlement as exemplified by the input of Wilson, Lee, Young, Perry and others. In addition it has been suggested that the OU also led the way towards some of the changes associated with the development of the quasi-market within the higher education sector. Now the relationship between democracy, the market and the universities is to be considered in a keynote address to be made at the OU. (more…)

Toxic Shock

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Higher education, once high on the government’s agenda, seems to have slipped down the list part way through the reform of the sector. In order to aid resolution of this matter Hefce, the Higher Education Funding Council for England whivh was designed as a funding body, not a planning one,  has become (in England) the ‘lead regulator’ of the quasi-privatised HE sector. As there is no cap on students numbers (there was in the past) those who wish to study through the OU can take out a loan, Hefce has not much control over those universities which teaches relatively little expensive science and are likely to gain most of their income from non-Hefce sources. (more…)

Capella moves in

Monday, August 15th, 2011

The new environment in which the OU must operate was indicated by an acquisition in July when the Capella Education Company, which describes itself as ‘aggressive’ and ‘disruptive’, acquired Resource Development International. RDI has called itself  the world’s largest independent provider of UK university qualifications by distance learning. Capella wants to validate degrees and RDI currently offers distance-learning degrees validated by institutions including the universities of Wales, Sunderland and Birmingham, and Anglia Ruskin and Sheffield Hallam universities. As December 31, 2010, it offered over 1,250 online courses and 43 academic programs with 136 specializations to over 39,000 learners.

The development was widely reported, with comments by, among others, the Wall Street Journal, the company itself and the THES.

Deaths and the OU’s near death experience

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

It was 41 years ago that Iain Macleod the Chancellor of the Exchequer died. The death occurred at 11.35pm on 20 July 1970 while he was in 11 Downing Street and, according to Patricia Hollis p. 339, while the papers which would enable him to close the OU were on his desk. Macleod is credited with the view that the OU was ‘blithering nonsense’  (Daily Telegraph, 17 February, 1969). The first Dean of Arts at the OU, John Ferguson, said that Macleod’s view of the OU was that he was

rigorously and almost fanatically against it… had declared publicly that if the thing were set up, his party would abolish it… There is no doubt that Macleod’s sudden death, lamentable for national leadership in other ways, eased the University’s infancy (Ferguson, The Open University from within, pp. 13, 26).

Although Macleod’s last testament ‘acquired a special sanctity from the untimely death of its author’, Thatcher, motivated according to George Gardiner, by ‘her strong belief in giving educational opportunity to those prepared to work for it’, kept the OU. (more…)

Flexible at forty

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

The history of the OU was an important element  of a discussion on Monday, 13 June 2011 at the British Academy, London.

After a welcome from Robin Jackson, Chief Executive and Secretary of the British Academy there was an introduction from the chair of the panel, Sir Peter Scott, Professor of Higher Education Studies, Institute of Education University of London (Vice-Chancellor Kingston University till December 2010, earlier Editor Times Higher Education Supplement introduced. He spoke warmly of the innovative social democratic ethos of the OU and invited Professor Alan Tait, Pro-Vice-Chancellor Curriculum and Awards, Open University to address the question, ‘Flexible learning: the future higher education landscape?’ The PVC told his audience of approximately 70 people about the initial development of the OU in the face of criticism from civil servants, politicians of left and right and the BBC. He explained the ways in which it might be seen as flexible and some of its strategies for coping with the uncertainties which face the HE sector. Taking up the theme of the innovative nature of the OU a Fellow of the Society for Research into Higher Education, Lewis Elton asked how it was that OU had been pioneered in the often conservative UK and not adopted or adapted for use elsewhere. Alan Tait explained that there were many universities which had adapted the blend of teaching communication through broadcasting and correspondence with some contact with personal tutors.

The next speaker was Carl Lygo, pictured, Chief Executive Officer, BPP Holdings, and Principal BPP University College of Professional Studies. (more…)

New College of the Humanities

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

A new private university college is to be launched, specialising in the arts and humanities and charging tuition fees of £18,000 a year. The privately funded New College of the Humanities will be based in Bloomsbury, London and plans to admit its first undergraduates in October 2012, offering degrees validated by the University of London. The intention is that the staff will teach exactly the same syllabi as the University of London but the college will not be part of that University. 

The University of London issued a clarification about the links with NCH.

“To avoid any confusion, it should be made clear that NCH is not, and will not be, a part of the University of London.”

There is no agreement for NCH students to have access to the University of London’s Senate House library – other than the same access available to other external students and Birkbeck, University of London, stated that ‘Birkbeck has no links with New College and no agreement to provide New College with access to any of its facilities’. Although exactly who owns  teaching materials is not entirely clear the development has caused some concern among staff at the University of London about this use of materials developed within the state system.


Acquire a solid base before leaping forwards

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

According to Cherwell, 177 dons have no confidence in the Universities Minister, David Willets,  Jonathan Black, the director of a careers service and Fellow of New College, Oxford sees this as a wider lack of confidence in the government.  Elsewhere there is a lack of confidence in changes which are being made to universities. Although she is against charging higher tuition fees Valérie Pécresse, the minister for higher education and research of France has still succeeded in provoking professors and students to take to the streets (in both 2007 and 2009) and demand her resignation. She has argued for 15 big universities across the country. This has echoes of an idea associated with former Open University VC John Daniel, who coined the word mega-university (see Daniel, John S (1996) Mega-universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education, Kogan Page, London). He, however, looked to the past, noting that Walter Perry ‘did more than anyone to build the foundations for today’s mega-universities. It is largely because of him that we can use the word ‘mega’ about these institutions’. Perhaps if Ministers better understood the evolution of the OU then academics would have more faith in their pronouncements about the best way forwards.

Economic History Society conference

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Off to the Economic History Society conference to contribute a paper on ‘The Big Society’ and listen to papers on a variety of subjects.

‘Universities’ Bernard Crick argued, ‘are part of society and, in both senses of the word, a critical part which should be playing a major role in the wider objectives of creating a citizenship culture’ (Bernard Crick, Essays on citizenship, 2000, p. 145). Taking the example of the role of The Open University indicates the benefits of conceptualising the relationship between the Big Society and the Big State as reciprocal, rather than employing dichotomous taxonomy. (more…)

New university college

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010


The development of the OU needs to be understood within the broader development of the HE sector and that sector changed in July 2010 when the London-based BPP, which has 14 regional branches, was permitted to become a university college. (more…)