Archive for the ‘Nations and regions’ Category

50 objects for 50 years. No 47. Europe

Monday, March 11th, 2019

As Brexit approaches and the UK’s relationship with the EU shifts, this week’s object which can be employed to illuminate the history of the OU is Continental Europe.

The Award Ceremony at Versailles , 2014

The OU has been teaching within the UK since 1971 and in other parts of Europe since 1972. The arrangements for teaching students outside the UK have undergone several changes in that time. Between 1972 and 1992, the University served three broad categories of student studying within the wider Europe: those starting their studies in the UK, those admitted under ‘special schemes’ in the Benelux countries and in the Republic of Ireland; and Services personnel and their families admitted under special schemes in Germany and Cyprus. In 1992 when the European Single Market was introduced, the University extended direct entry to any person domiciled in the EU and in other parts of western Europe.

The first organised move into western Europe was in 1982. During 1981 a Working Group established by the Student Affairs and Awards Board on study provision for those resident overseas issued its report. The report contained proposals, that were accepted by Senate, on the means by which the University’s provision for those resident outside the UK might be rationalised and extended.

The first step in the scheme would be the presentation of a small core of courses, not including ones with Home Experiment Kits or summer schools, drawn from the associate student programme. As the scheme developed, gradually more courses could be added to this initial core and the scheme extended geographically. Ultimately, the courses might be offered to foreign nationals.

Having approved the general arrangements, Senate gave its consent to a specific proposal to offer OU courses to UK nationals resident in Brussels. Five courses were offered in 1982. Applicants had to apply through the British Council in Brussels which would place a block booking with the University and arrange for the subsequent distribution of course materials to students. For all other purposes, students would be attached to an OU region and would have their tutors and counsellors within that Region.

In the event, 45 students registered. After consultation it was decided that all students in the scheme should be attached to the University’s Northern Region: students were therefore allocated to course tutors in that region, and the region was also able to recruit and appoint two associate student counsellors in Brussels. The course tutors did not solely act as ‘correspondence’ tutors: they were able to visit Brussels on two occasions to hold day schools. In 1983 the scheme was expanded to ten courses and made available to non-British nationals in Belgium.

The OU’s presence grew. It came to offer prisoners in western Europe the same modules that were offered to those in British gaols. Peter Regan, a senior counsellor and the manager for Spain Portugal, Greece, Belgium and Gibraltar, recalled although the Vice Chancellor travelled to the continent to present awards to students, ‘we didn’t take many orders from Walton Hall; they didn’t intervene in our European operations’ and that students in prison received support from OU staff. Sometimes informal arrangements were made, on one occasion an Italian nun smuggled TMAs in and out of a prison. Liz Manning, a senior counsellor, and country manager for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France arranged for a tutor to travel from Vienna to a remote prison in Austria to tutor ‘Michael’. On graduation permission was granted for him to travel to Vienna to receive his degree certificate from Liz: ‘I made a speech to an audience of our office staff, a former fellow prisoner, the British Consul General and his [Michael’s] social worker. We then went out for lunch before he returned to prison’.

By 2002 were about 6,000 OU students registered in western Europe (‘OU title fails to convince’ Times Higher September 27, 2002). However, the end of the Cold War saw a reduction in interest in western European unity and, with a new OU Chancellor who had not reached the position through holding an academic post, the balance between a recognition of the importance of the market and the benefits of promoting egalitarian values were thrown into a different perspective. Minutes from a July 2011 meeting of the governing body show the university’s vice-chancellor Martin Bean confirmed that the institution was planning to “decommit from face-to-face tuition using (associate lecturers) based in Europe”. There were over 100 academics in nine countries and seven academic-related staff members in six countries supporting 9,000 students studying OU courses in English in mainland Europe. As well as support from a tutor, some had access to online forums and face-to-face tutorials depending on their location. A report concluded that European operations were ‘expensive and inefficient’ and in February 2012 Council took the decision to reduce face-to-face operations and focus on online delivery. OUSA voiced its concerns about the change. Roger Walters, president of the OU branch of the University and College Union, said the plans were ‘deeply regrettable’ and added that ‘It is extremely sad that very many long-standing and highly committed people who have performed an invaluable service for the OU are at risk of losing their jobs… We believe this is a bad move that could damage the [university’s] reputation in Europe’.

While Residential schools continued to be offered outside the UK the OU’s financial director Miles Hedges, noted that the pattern of distribution of OU students across Continental Europe made it difficult to operate the tutor/student allocation process efficiently. The result was that many associate lecturers had tutor groups where few, if any, students were based in their own country. Moreover, the OU had to operate 12 different payroll systems, deal with 12 different legal and fiscal systems and there were high social security costs and fluctuating exchange rates.

The Times Higher 26 February 2012 found an Associate Lecturer who worked on the Continent

It’s already such a cliche to moan about the gradual decline of higher education’s values as it adopts a more ‘businesslike’ approach that it might seem superfluous to add yet one more voice to the tired old chorus of complaint. Certainly the current direction being taken by the OU is far from unique in this respect. Indeed, it might even be argued that by working for the university in mainland Europe – where students have always been obliged to pay full fees – one is already conniving in a kind of ‘expansion of the customer base’ that is fully consistent with such a market-oriented culture. And yet at the same time, even under such circumstances, many OU staff on the Continent still maintain a certain commitment to some of the idealistic, egalitarian values on which the institution was founded – values such as universal access to learning, which, as we can testify from our everyday work, can be life-transforming. It’s these values that some of us fear are being eroded by this ongoing cultivation of a more openly commercial mindset. The latest cost-saving measures, which will have a massive impact not only on our livelihoods but also the whole quality of student support on the European mainland, are a clear case in point.

Europe remains a major interest to the OU. There are modules which provide opportunities to study it, for example the history module A327, and there have been events for students, such as this one. There is Brexit guidance here. Many staff have assessed the likely impacts of Brexit and the subject features on a second level Politics module.

50 objects for 50 years. No 41. Trade Unions

Monday, January 28th, 2019

After negotiations reaching back to 2002 the new contract for Associate Lecturers (ALs) is going to be implemented over the next two years. This was after 93% of AL union members who voted in a union ballot, favoured the new contract. Casual labour has long been an important element of staffing at the OU. In the past it was only when students signed up for a module that the ALs to teach them are employed. If the number of students fell then, although efforts were made to avoid this, ALs might not be contracted. The new, permanent contract for over 4,000 ALs will mean more job security for tutors, as well as better terms and conditions, more staff development opportunities, and improved long term planning. The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Mary Kellett spoke of this being ‘a huge step towards an inclusive OU family and a united teaching workforce’. UCU regional official Lydia Richards said: ‘The new contract is a huge step forward for associate lecturers at the Open University. It means they are free from the fear of being out of work if there is a fluctuation in student numbers’.

In the light of this development, this week’s object is the trade unions at the Open University. Members of a number of unions have worked at the OU. Currently two trade unions are recognised at the OU. UNISON was created in 1993 through the merger of a number of unions, including the National Union of Public Employees, founded 1905. It negotiates on behalf of Secretarial and Clerical, Industrial Production Staff and Manual and Ancillary staff at the OU. This includes members who work for private contractors on an OU location. In addition to employment Terms and Conditions UNISON offers advice and support regarding Leave Entitlement, Health and Safety, Bullying and Harassment and it also offers services such as Insurance, Holidays and Legal Advice. Based at Walton Hall, it has representatives at all the OU locations. These include Walton Hall, the Regions, the Nations and the Wellingborough Warehouse.

At Walton Hall the pensions strike picket line, Princess Leia, sporting her bagel-style haircut, helped with the leafleting. Strikers were also supported by the local prospective Labour MP, Cllr Hannah O’Neill.











The OU branch of the University and College Union negotiates with the University’s management on behalf of academic, research, AL and academic-related staff. It encourages staff to have a voice in the strategy and future of the university. Fifty years before the OU received its Royal Charter the Association of University Teachers (AUT) was formed. In 1949 the Scottish AUT (formed 1922) affiliated to the AUT (UK) as the AUT (Scotland). Almost from the start the AUT was active within the OU. It was joined by the Association of University and College Lecturers in 1992 and in 2006 it merged with the National Association for Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) to form the University and College Union (UCU). The union’s trained caseworkers have provided support and advice to members on a wide range of issues. Unreasonable treatment, such as bullying, discrimination and unfair dismissal have been challenged. There have been campaigns about the gender pay gap, job losses, casualisation, excessive workload and many other issues. The union has not simply been reactive. It has encouraged members to work together and to imagine how education could be better. There has also been support from the central officials and representatives of the union. Following votes, members have gone on strike with other branches around the country, most recently over pensions. Whilst most UCU branches have a membership based in one campus or a single town, the OU branch has Associate Lecturer and Staff Tutor members across Britain and Ireland. The UCU has often campaigned to defend students, opposing the decision to introduce high fees for learners. It has, in turn, received support from students. When tutors have explained that their reasons for postponing the assessment of students’ work, they have received letters and emails of support.
Specially-produced clothing to promote a campaign at the OU.

There have been other initiatives to engage with trade unions and industrial workers. In 1977, in an OU television programme and an internal paper Dr Ke  Jones drew on his own research in order to demonstrate that education was perceived as middle class He proposed study centres in industrial premises and the offer of guaranteed places for industrial workers. (Ken Jones, Given half a chance: A study of some factors in cultural disadvantage affecting the acquisition of learning skills in adults). The OU has also been in partnership with Unionlearn, the learning and skills organisation of the Trades Union Congress which helps trade unions provide opportunities for their members to learn.





50 objects for 50 years. No 40. Scotland

Sunday, January 20th, 2019


Right. The Open University in Scotland,  Jennie Lee House, 9-11 Drumsheugh Gardens, Edinburgh

On the left, Dr Gerry Mooney, OU Staff Tutor in Scotland and author and co-author of many texts including an article which won the Sociological Review 2017 prize for outstanding scholarship: Place revisited: Class, stigma, urban restructuring in the case of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games.

Although the OU has never simply been in Walton Hall, Milton Keynes the assumption that the OU was to be a unitary institution to serve the whole nation was illustrated by the editor of the Times Educational Supplement, who in 1971, called it ‘England’s Open University’. This marginalises that Scots have played a significant part in the shaping of the OU. Harold Wilson first announced his plans for a ‘University of the Air’ in Glasgow Concert Hall, and Jennie Lee (the MP who did so much to create the OU) and Walter Perry, the founder Vice Chancellor, brought their experiences of Scottish universities to the OU. The Scottish Education Department attended the Advisory Committee which helped to shape the OU. Scottish personnel brought experiences of specific features of higher education that were particularly relevant to the OU. The four-year degree was widely accepted in Scotland and the Scottish Universities Council for Studies in Education had already explored credit transfer systems.  Stirling University offered modular degrees from its inception in 1967. These precedents encouraged the OU’s planners to believe that a modular system, necessary as students often took breaks within their studies or did not seek to complete an entire degree, could successfully be developed. Members of the Planning Committee included Professor Lord Ritchie-Calder, Professor of International Relations at University of Edinburgh and Roderick Maclean, Director, University of Glasgow Television Services. Winnie Ewing, Scottish National Party President 1987–2005, suggested that the honorary doctorate she received from the OU in 1993 was ‘in recognition of my role in establishing it’.

The Scottish local authorities were given the right to nominate a member of the OU’s Council. They brought with them the confidence that working-class students could attend a university, a notion with a longer pedigree in Scotland than in England. Since the nineteenth century there had been a large number of bursaries for university places in Scotland and there are strong traditions of independent working- class education in Scotland. In the 1860s 1 in 1,000 people went to university in Scotland compared with 1 in 5,800 in England, and 20 per cent of students at universities in Scotland were of working-class origin. OU students were not always like those from England. Among the first ten cohorts of OU graduates 44 per cent were teachers, but this was only 37 per cent in Scotland, where there had long been many graduate teachers; the percentage of teachers without previous degrees was 41 per cent across the UK but only 29 per cent in Scotland.83 In addition, 20 per cent of Scottish students were geographically remote.

Once established the regional structure enabled the OU to adapt to differences within the United Kingdom. Roger Carus, the first Scottish Director of The Open University, ignored ‘“instructions” from Milton Keynes when he believed they did not meet Scottish needs’. Neil McCormick (an arts Staff Tutor in Scotland) noted that the Scots working in Edinburgh felt obliged not only to appoint and supervise staff in Scotland, but also to adapt OU teaching to local conditions. Scotland has a different legal system, different educational traditions, an Established Church of its own and a distinctive cultural history. The distance between the university’s central administration and its furthest flung students put a lot of mileage on its Scottish staff, as Neil McCormick noted: ‘Stornaway Tuesday, Milton Keynes Thursday’.

Soon after the tuition fees doubled in the course of four years he pointed out the inequalities of access in Scotland and McCormick commented, ‘The better-off can travel from Arran to Aberdeen, just for a day school, if they want to. The others may not be able to, even once a year.’ A generation later when fees were raised the OU’s Young Applicants in Schools and Colleges Scheme (whereby about 25,000 school students studied OU modules) was closed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It was retained in Scotland where the fees were remained the same.

The teaching methods had to be adapted as the reception of broadcasts was unreliable in some parts of Scotland and the distances people were required to travel, if they sought to attend tutorials, were vast. However, there were compensations: staff who went to Kirkwall and Lerwick spoke of how they returned with sides of lamb from appreciative local organisers. For part-time staff with more generic roles, location counsellors, location centres (rather than study centres) and telephone and later video conferencing were employed. Telephone tutorials were developed by, amongt others, Judith George These were for those who lived in remote locations, some disabled students and those on some low-population courses.

The OU in Scotland gained a reputation for reaching out, providing evidence that the OU, while distant, was also nearby. The Scottish Director of The Open University from 1988, John Cowan, an educator of international reputation, was involved in many local issues and networks and active in securing access to university education for the Highlands and Islands. Emeritus Professor Ian Donnachie chaired Validation Panels for OU Validation Services, the Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships, and acted as an assessor with QAA, the Scottish Funding Council, and reviewer for the Arts and Humanities Research Council. He also took a long-term interest in the heritage of the New Lanark World Heritage Site, helping to develop a search room and archive at New Lanark.  Professor Christopher Harvie was a senior lecturer in history at the OU before becoming an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament. Katla Helgason started to study at the OU in 1971. She became a tutor, established the Scottish Prison Scheme which replaced ad hoc arrangements with prisons, and later became the Assistant Director OU in Scotland. She went on to be active within National Dementia Carers Action Network.









50 objects for 50 years. No 14. Milton Keynes

Monday, July 23rd, 2018

Although the Open University is situated wherever they study their materials, on the bus, online, in the living room, it is also in a number of specific locations, in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. At the centre is the Milton Keynes site. Milton Keynes, a town founded in 1967 following the New Town Act of 1965, was itself new on the map when the OU opened. The new university had few facilities and had to use several former RAF huts and a former stud farm. Some OU activities were based in nearby villages and it was only in 1971 that a warehouse was acquired, at Wellingborough. Some staff found it difficult to find accommodation in the rural area where the new town was being built. An important role of Milton Keynes was expressed by the first Chancellor, Geoffrey Crowther. He opened the OU with the words:

This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. Hardly even shall we have a campus. By a very happy chance, our only local habitation will be in the new city that is to bear two of the widest ranging names in the history of English thought, Milton Keynes. But this is only where the tip of our toe touches ground; the rest of the University will be disembodied and airborne. From the start it will flow all over the United Kingdom.

The new university was welcomed by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation but Milton Keynes was never intended to be the only site for the OU which appointed a Director of Regional and Tutorial Services, Robert Beevers, in February 1969.

Milton Keynes has benefitted socially and economically from the OU. The 70-acre site was to be the hub. The spokes of the university would be the regional centres. As the Panning Committee noted: ‘it will be upon the success of the Regional Directors that the corporate spirit of the University will largely depend’. Staff sit on governing bodies, run charities, have been elected to a variety of civic posts and have spent their earnings in the town.

An acknowledgement of the university is that it features among the 106 granite pillars of the Milton Keynes Rose located in Campbell Park. Created by Gordon Young in 2014, the Milton Keynes Rose is an open-air circle with the blocks in it. This picture features an OU student leaning on the OU pillar. This object reminds us that the OU is in Milton Keynes, but is only one aspect of the town and that the university exists far beyond Milton Keynes.

A national, local university

Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Wherever I go I meet OU students, including ones who wish to discuss their TMAs, and I see signs pointing towards the OU. When I travelled to Huddersfield the other day, in order to act as discussant at a doctoral students’ study day there, I was delighted, on emerging from the railway station, to be greeted by a statue of Harold Wilson. The OU founder maintained an enthusiasm for the OU and I work in a building named after him which he opened.
I’m now off to act as discussant of other doctoral papers in London, at UCL which is a few mins walk from the OU’s metropolitan office. Perhaps the alleged popularity of Hi-ho silver lining at summer schools of yore is because the lyrics speak to the virtual and real OU ‘You’re everywhere and nowhere baby, / Thats where you’re at’. The song concludes with a reminder to return to focusing on the teaching materials of the period, no matter where you are located: ‘So open up your beach umbrella /While you are watching TV’.
If you have ever got sun tan lotion on your Reader or you have a favourite OU location (I once got locked into a study centre and had to use all my teaching skills to pursuade the most agile student to clamber out of the window to summon help) do let us know via the website.

The OU in Europe

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Changes proposed to how the OU organises its student support in Europe have made for some controversial headlines in the Times Higher and has led some to ask about the roots of The Open University’s operations there.

Some information about the University’s overseas activities are available on The History of the OU website.

The OU has been teaching within the UK since 1971 and in other parts of Europe since 1972. The arrangements for teaching students outside the UK have undergone several changes in that time.

Between 1972 and 1992, the University served three broad categories of student studying within the wider Europe: those starting their studies in the UK, those admitted under ‘special schemes’ in the Benelux countries and in the Republic of Ireland; and Services personnel and their families admitted under special schemes in Germany and Cyprus. In 1992 when the European Single Market was introduced, the University extended direct entry to any person domiciled in the EU and in other parts of western Europe. (more…)

Twin tracks

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

The OU opened in 1969, which makes it almost a chronological twin of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The latter opened as the Negev Institute for Higher Education a few years earlier, had a few other antecedents, including roots in the Dimona nuclear research institute and became a university in 1969. Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson promised that the Open University would support the spread of technology and in Israel it was an interest in science and technology that helped to drive the project to develop BGU. (more…)

What have we learnt? Establishing the OU in Scotland

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

One of the most relevant presentations to the OU’s own history at last week’s What have we learnt? forum was Professor Judith George’s paper on supporting isolated remote learners. Judith spoke of the challenges in establishing the OU in Scotland, with its specific geography and politics. However, it was essential that the OU in its early days grapple with these issues if it was to be recognised as a British institution. (more…)

Mind your language

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Born in Lithuania in 1858 Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, (originally Eliezer Yitzhak Perelman) moved to Jerusalem, married and tried to raise his son (born 1882) to speak only Hebrew. At this time there was only a limited vocabulary in the language but Ben Yehuda campaigned and from 1882 the language was taught in some schools. In 1884 a Hebrew newspaper was started. In 1918 a stone was laid to ceremonially show that there was to be a university in British Mandate Palestine and in 1925 the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was opened. The name reflects how language is often defended through universities. (more…)

Conference, Oslo

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Oslo has just over half a million inhabitants and is located at the head of a 70-mile long fjord. It is surrounded by forested ridges and I’m told that it is straightforward to go skiing, kayaking or ice skating within the city.

It certainly appears cheerier than a glance at the work of local artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) might lead one to suppose. He painted other images beside the famous one shown here. For instance he provided a mural for a local chocolate factory.

I’ve come here to spend a weekend listening to papers and contributing to discussions in a forum entitled, ‘Rethinking Modern University History’. I hope to situate thedevelopment of The Open University within the wider context of the development of other universities and hear, among other contributions, a paper about ‘The Myth of Academic Dissertations’, another intriguingly entitled: ‘An Inside Job? The Problem of Reflexivity in University History and Higher Education Studies’ and a third called ‘Undoing the European University: The Bologna Process’.