Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Twenty years of schooling

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

2011 marks the conclusion of the first two decades of an European association for distance learning open to institutions and individuals. This not-for-profit company, EDEN, the European Distance and E-learning Network, is interested in formal and non-formal education and training at all levels. It holds conferences, supports the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning and provides support and advice for a range of projects. It has close associations with the OU, for example Alan Tait is a former President and former VC, Sitr John Daniel is to address the EDEN annual conference in June 2011.  For more on ‘this other Eden, demi-paradise’, as Shakespeare almost called it and for information about the forthcoming conference click here.

‘A brilliant session’

Monday, April 4th, 2011


 That is how AHRC Council member Rick Trainor described the Economic History Society session on ‘The Big Society’. In recent days there has been much debate about the role of the AHRC in regard to The Big Society. In regard to this matter there are comments and further links available via the Times Higher and the New Statesman and there is an account by James Sumner. The academic conference debate attended by Professor Trainor was was an example of academics coming together to assess the idea within a historical context.  The government might not frame its social, educational and economic policies in the light of the ideas constructed and contested by academics but it now has to option to consider their views and analysis.

Hilary Perraton

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Hilary Perraton was closely involved with the National Extension College, NEC, a precusor of the OU, from 1964 until 1971. He promoted the idea that a multi-media teaching programme is likely to be more effective than one which relies on a single medium. He went on to become a Co-Director of the International Extension College, a non-profit consultative organization on distance teaching and to work at the Commonwealth Secretariat, at the International Research Foundation for Open Learning and to chair the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.  (more…)

Part-time provision

Friday, March 4th, 2011

In the May 1985 DES Green Paper The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s (HMSO, London, Cmd 9524) the OU was the only named institution which received any favourable comments, being seen as the major provider of part-time degrees. There are now far more part-time students, four in ten undergraduates, but they still tend to be marginalised. The OU remains a significant provider and in order for concerns about the needs of those who work and study to reach the appropriate Parliamentary ears it fell to Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean to present the case for part-time learners to the Education Bill Committee in the Commons in March 2011.

The session can be viewed here. The OU’s session can be found between 1 hour 30 minutes and 2 hours 14 minutes.

Sky’s the limit for flat earthers?

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Founded in 2004 the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education offers support and advice on leadership, governance and management to the UK higher education sector. In a keynote speech to its 2011 conference, Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University since 1 October 2009, stressed the importance of internationalisation for UK and US universities. We face, as Martin Bean, put it, a ‘flat world with no boundaries’ but making successful links requires that ‘senior people in your governance body’ support expansion and that the choice of areas of activity and partners is determined by the university’s values and culture.

Martin Bean’s advice may well be derived his own experience of international educational ventures. He was President of AIESEC International, (Association Internationale des Étudiants en Sciences Économiques et Commerciales) in 1986-7. This international, not-for-profit organisation run by students and recent graduates was described by Kofi Anan as

an agent of positive change through education and cultural exchange to develop a broader understanding of cultural, socio-economic and business management issues.

In addition, Martin Bean may have built on an understanding of the history of the OU. (more…)

The economics of The Open University

Monday, February 21st, 2011

21 February is the birthday of Leslie Wagner (here in black and yellow gown) formerly of the OU. When it first opened the economic efficiency of the OU was assessed. The OU produced data on a variety of aspects of the OU’s activities including how much it cost to produce a graduate, the cost to individuals and to the public sector. A study made in 1971 by an economist at the OU, Leslie Wagner, indicated that the OU was cheaper than other universities. The identification of fixed and variable costs, and deciding which costs ought to be allocated to teaching, which to research and which to ensuring that the university was also for the ‘storage of knowledge and maintenance of cultural standards’, was open to discussion. Wagner concluded:

It would be imprudent to draw any very definite conclusions from these figures. There are too many conceptual and statistical problems for that sort of exercise. Nevertheless, the gap between the Open University and the conventional universities’ figures is too large to be ignored

There were further studies, most of which largely agreed with Wagner’s assessment but in 1978 John Mace attacked the case that the OU was cheaper. He concluded that the idea that the OU ‘outperforms conventional universities in terms of openness and costs per graduate… is a dangerous myth. The studies suffer from serious methodological shortcomings’. The debate then took a turn towards another aspect of economics: output. To make a comparison in regard to attainment the same questions were set for students at the OU and for students at a conventional university. Overall, Lumsden and Alex Scott concluded, ‘the academic standards of the OU compare well with conventional universities’.


Leslie Wagner, ‘The economics of the Open University’, Higher Education, 1, 2, May 1972, pp. 159-183;

Charles F Carter, ‘The economics of the Open University: a comment’, Higher Education, 2, !, February 1973, pp. 69-70

Bruce Laidlaw and Richard Layard, ‘Traditional versus Open University teaching methods: a cost comparison’, Higher education, 3, 4, 1974, pp. 439-467;

K. G. Lumsden and C. Ritchie, ‘The Open University: a survey and economic analysis’, Instructional Science 4, 1975, pp. 237-291;

Greville Rumble, ‘The economics of the Open University of the United Kingdom’, Open University mimeo, 1976

Leslie Wagner, ‘The economics of the Open University revisited’, Higher Education, 6 1977, pp. 359-381.

John Mace, ‘Mythology in the making: is the Open University really cost effective?’, Higher education, 7, 3, August 1978, pp. 295-309

Keith Lumsden and Alex Scott, ‘An output comparison of Open University and conventional students’, Higher Education, 11, 5, September 1982, pp. 573-591.

An Open and Shut Case

Friday, February 11th, 2011

The UCU (University and College Union) recently commissioned a report, Universities at risk. The impact of cuts in higher education spending on local economies, which concluded that across England, 49 universities were at risk of closure and that, of all the pre-92 universities, the OU is most at risk. It features in the list of 22 HEIs at ‘high medium’ level of potential impact from the proposals made in the Browne Review (2010), Securing a sustainable future for higher education. This means that the OU has at least eight of the maximum of 12 ‘risk’ points. A recent survey of university leaders revealed that nine out of ten expect an institution to close due to financial pressures. The OU has faced the possibility of closure before. In the past it rallied students and staff to defend it. (more…)

Walter James

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011


Professor Walter James, the founder Dean of the Faculty of Educational Studies, born in 1924, died on Christmas Day 2010.

The son of a railway fireman, later an engine driver, Walter James attended Grammar School due to a scholarship but had to leave aged 16 as his family could not afford for him to remain in full-time education. He joined the Royal Navy aged 18 and after war service he trained as a teacher. He was a mature student at Nottingham University between 1952 and 1955 and then a lecturer in adult education there. While working at the Department of Adult Education, Nottingham he worked on a project to integrate television broadcasts and correspondence materials into a university course. Associated Television and the University of Nottingham produced a 13-week course which 1,250 people completed. It included programmes, written notes, two tutorials and a residential weekend attended by 200 people.

Following his appointment to the OU he sought out others who had used a variety of distance teaching techniques, visiting both the University of Wisconsin Extension and the USA Forces Institute, a centre for correspondence-based education which was based nearby and had links with the Wisconsin. (more…)

Goodbye to the Geoffrey Crowther building (corrected)

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

A moving tribute to the Geoffrey Crowther building has been paid here. The building on the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes is currently being demolished. It was built in in 1971 with its extension opened in the early 1980s.

Lord Crowther of Headingley was the first Chancellor of the University until his death in 1972. He was installed as Chancellor at the first meeting of the Congregation of the University on 23 July 1969 at the Royal Society. This was combined with the award of the Charter by the Privy Council, and was attended by the Prime Minister to much fanfare. It was on this occasion that Lord Crowther gave his speech describing the new university as open as to people, places, methods and ideas: the University’s mission statement to this day.

CORRECTION (14/02/2011): An official document from the University’s Estates Department provided the information for this post that the Geoffrey Crowther building was built in 1971. However, an observant reader of this blog contacted us to point out that as he was working in the building in 1969, this could not in fact be the case. A check of the aerial view of the campus from 1969 shows that indeed the building was in place then (on the left hand side of the picture).

1969 campus from the air

Press at the OU

Monday, January 10th, 2011

The OU has produced many newspapers and magazines over the years. One of them was aimed at staff and students within Social Sciences. It ran between 1998-2010 in print format and according to the person who edited every edition, Dick Skellington, it sought

to engage readers with those realities which make up everyday life. It has championed the involvement of students themselves, questioned government and academic dogma, informed readers of our curriculum and research priorities, and provided a diverse array of short and informative, often amusing, stories, all embellished by fine photographs and illustrations plus contributions from our two highly talented student cartoonists

This is an example of the work of Catherine Pain a cartoonist For Society Matters and now one for the Open University Community Online Platform