Archive for April 6th, 2010

The history of The Open University: foundations

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
This blog is, in part, an appeal for help. It is motivated by the research which seems to indicate that blogs can promote a sense of community and reciprocity, that if we are encouraged to reflect and share our ideas and skills then the research outcomes will be all the better. I’d like to work with those who have got memories or ideas which will improve our understanding of the development of the OU. One of the difficulties about starting any history is where to begin. While the roots of any organisation, or shift in consciousness often evolved over generations, there is often a catalyst which accounts for the formal foundation. In the case of the OU the three people who are credited with playing significant parts in the creation of the OU, Jennie Lee, Michael Young and Harold Wilson might be taken as exemplifying longer-term trends and understandings. Michael Young’s passion for using television for education and for social justice aided the foundation while from Harold Wilson there derived the enthusiasm for a technological future, for a society with modern science at its core. Jennie Lee’s input was more focused on the traditions of the Labour Party’s interest in providing equal opportunities for adults to better themselves. While Michael Young had worked for the Labour Party, it was the latter two politicians who helped to structure an idea of a ‘university of the air’ into the reality of the OU.
Does this account uncritcally reflect the ideas expressed by Walter Perry in 1976 ? He wrote:
The concept of the Open University evolved from the convergence of three major postwar trends. The first of these concerns developments in the provision for adult education, the second the growth of educational broadcasting and the third the political obhjective of promoting the spread of egalitarianism in education
This blog is one of the places where new ideas about the origins of the OU can be aired.  If the OU was an outcome of concern about adult education why was it a university rather than a more vocational college? If educational broadcasting was of such significance why have most of the teaching materials in print form and if it was a response an interest in ‘egalitarianism in education’ how come many of its users had already been socially upwardly mobile longf before they registered as students? If this framework looks unreasonable, if you have an understanding of the foundation which is at variance with the above focus, do let us know.