Archive for the ‘Higher education’ Category

Context of OU creation

Thursday, January 12th, 2023

The notion of  technology supporting freedom was behind Wilson’s ‘university of the air’ idea. This article provides a bit of context. 

Josh Patel, ‘The Puzzle of Lionel Robbins: How a Neoliberal Economist Expanded Public University Education in 1960s Britain’, Twentieth Century British History, 2022, pp1-26.

Lionel Robbins (1898–1984) has been identified as one of the leading ‘neoliberal’ economists of his day. However, his name remains irrevocably linked with the massive state-funded ‘social democratic’ expansion of higher education recommended by the Robbins Report (1963). This article explores this paradox. Examining Robbins’s writings on higher education in the context of his economic thought shows how he blended the liberalism of Adam Smith and J. S. Mill, neoliberal economics, and growing demands for personal choice. For Robbins, the atrocities of the Nazi and Soviet regimes demonstrated how the state armed with new modern technologies could endanger freedom and prosperity. But the ‘good society’ might wield technology to secure conditions of freedom and choice. Robbins advocated a system of state-subsidized universities based on ‘student demand’ and which generated social and individual returns. This system would perpetuate what Robbins called the ‘creed of freedom’: a reimagined interdisciplinary liberal education through which students would understand the importance of their specialism to liberal capitalism. His thought on higher education indicates something of the dynamism of post-war British liberalism and the range of support for higher education expansion. It further counters the impression of the British universities as sites of a static and conservative liberal education.

50 objects for 50 years. No 26. The Computers and Learning Research Group.

Monday, October 15th, 2018

This week’s object is a Group which is marking its 4oth birthday this week.

A key activity within The Open University, as in other universities, is the generation of knowledge through research. The OU’s specialist areas include, of course, learning at a distance and open learning.

Teaching and learning are central to both these subjects. They’re supported by the use of technology – from television and radio to the Internet and virtual reality. The OU is therefore ideally placed to investigate what new technologies have to offer learners other than novelty value.

For the past forty years, the Computers and Learning research group (CALRG), based in the Institute of Educational Technology, has been linking this research and development work across the University, communicating ideas, and bringing people together. This collective effort has been linked by the group’s visions of a future when:

  • Learning is accessible for everyone.
  • Teaching is adapted to meet learners’ needs.
  • Teams can successfully teach any number of students at a distance
  • Learners engage enthusiastically with STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) learning.

The OU Archives contain hundreds of resources generated by the group: abstracts from the annual conferences it has run since its foundation, videos of keynote speeches, research reviews, and research reports.

The group currently meets on a Thursday four times a month. First Thursdays are research seminars with a mixture of internal and external speakers. On second Thursdays, the group discusses how best to communicate research – not only to an academic audience but also the wider world through broadcast and social media. The third meeting of the month is an opportunity to share research with each other, and the final meeting offers a chance for general discussion over coffee and cake.

CALRG provides an opportunity to make and strengthen connections. Connections between senior and junior staff  and research students, connections between departments, and connections between academic and non-academic staff. Where possible, meetings and conferences are recorded or live-streamed, so they can be accessed by regional staff, associate lecturers, and part-time EdD students.

This week, there’s a chance to join CALRG in celebrating 40 years of research. The event on campus in the Berrill lecture theatre is already fully booked. Here, you can sign up to join online on Friday 19 October 9am-5pm. Speakers include CALRG founders Regius Professor Eileen Scanlon and Sir Tim O’Shea, Cambridge emeritus professor Neil Mercer and UCL professor Diana Laurillard, as well as some of the group’s leading current researchers.

This posting was contributed by Rebecca Ferguson. If you would like to contribute, get in touch.

OU module at centre of new book

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

This new book, The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture explores the Open University as a critical point of convergence between mass media and mass education.

The book focuses on the module (course) A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939, as a reference point for current discourse on open-source and online educational models.

Different aspects of A305 are analysed and there are conversations between Joaquim Moreno (who curated an exhibition ‘The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture’) and central figures involved in the creation and production of the course. These are Stephen Bayley, (interviewed here) Tim Benton, Adrian Forty, Nick Levinson, and Joseph Rykwert. There are also essays that frame broader questions of architectural historiography, media history, and the pedagogical and political circumstances of the period. These are by Joaquim Moren0 who has previously considered A305, see here. On the exhibition see  here and here. It is reviewed as an ‘alternative history of the modern movement’, here.

The A305 Course Chair recalled that the teaching materials included 24 television programmes, 32 radio programmes and a Radiovision Booklet. He has assessed the course here and here.

The book is a co-publication with Jap Sam Books, designed by Jonathan Hares (Lausanne and London).

Age of Asa Briggs

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

 The Age of Asa (a book aboutLord Briggs including a chapter on his contribution to the OU) will be launched at midday on Thursday 4th December, at the Falmer campus, University of Sussex at which Asa and Susan Briggs will be present.

Forthcoming conference at the Institute of Historical Research, London on ‘The Utopian Universities: a fifty year retrospective’ (23-24 October 2014). It takes as its subject the ‘new’ universities of the 1960s – Sussex, East Anglia, York, Lancaster, Kent, Essex and Warwick. The programme is available at

Parliamentary interest in OU

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

During a Lords debate of 24 July 2013 the contributors mentioned the OU’s experience and dynamism in regard to part-time education. Lord Rees of Ludlow noted that while across the nation numbers applying to be part-time students had fallen by 40% over the previous year, ‘the OU has to some extent bucked the trend’. He also called it ‘excellent news’ that the Open University had established FutureLearn. Baroness Garden of Frognal called FutureLearn ‘an exciting development’. Baroness Brinton commended the OU’s recruitment campaign and called FutureLearn ‘groundbreaking’, adding that ‘the key is the OU’s expertise in distance learning, which has been critical to getting this off the ground. These courses, and the way in which students interact with each other as well as with staff across the various institutions, is the learning environment of the 21st century’.

University of the Chair

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

To mark the Diamond Jubilee Her Majesty the Queen has bestowed upon the Open University a Regius Professorship in Open Education.  See here: It is one of  twelve prestigious new posts. These accolades have been awarded since 1540. Previously the professorships were concentrated in seven universities, those of Aberdeen, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oxford, St Andrews and Trinity College Dublin. The University of Glasgow has 13, Oxford 8 and Cambridge has 7. Two such Regius chairs were created to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and before that Queen Victoria created one.  There are only 44 Regius professorships in the UK and Ireland. 

In this case universities applied for the Jubilee professorships before a panel of academics led by Graeme Davies, chairman of the Higher Education Policy Institute. The panel will advise ministers who then made recommendations to the Queen.

The first Regius  Professor  in Open Education at the OU will be Professor Eileen Scanlon, who has worked for the OU for over 37 years. Providing a chair which recognises the importance of educational tchnology is a particularly fitting way of marking the 50th anniversary of the announcement of a ‘University of the Air’.

Seminar: The University, the Scholar and the Student

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012


Thinking the present with Max Weber

A series of seminar-workshops to be organised by the Max Weber Study Group of the British Sociological Association  

Seminar-workshop 1: Co-organised with the University of Salford and UCU Salford 

The University, the Scholar and the Student 

7 December 2012 – University of Salford (Manchester) 


CFP: Students in Twentieth Century Europe

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Submission deadline: Thursday, January 31 2013

Conference date: Thursday, July 18 2013

Conference Venue: School of Social, Historical and Literary Studies, University of Portsmouth
Portsmouth, United Kingdom (more…)

Finnish link

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

One of the benefits of exploring the history of the OU is that it opportunities arise to meet colleagues from overseas. When Katja Varjos, from Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Finland, visited the OU she said something about her teaching experiences.

Her university is a little younger than the OU and, in common with the OU, Lahti prides itself on its range of partnerships and company projects and its versatile and practical teaching methods. The institution accepts students of all ages and they are all funded by the state with grants. While much of the contact is face-to-face, Katja Varjos intends to develop the university’s engagement with elearning. (more…)

Plugged in but not switched on

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Photographer: FourNinety Copyright (C) The Open University

For a report on how ‘massive open online courses’ provided by Coursera, edX and Udacity appear to be ‘another tectonic shift in the evolution of higher education and HE internationalisation’, see a report from the Observatory on borderless higher education.

The OU’s eLearning Community newsletter recently noted the interest in massive open online courses (MOOCs) and also noted that it appears to have come as a surprise to ‘Wired Campus’ that many MOOC students form groups to study and socialize. (more…)