Archive for May 27th, 2010

Thatcher and the OU

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

In October 1970 Ted Short (a former Labour Minister) argued in Education & Training (12, 10, October 1970) that the new Tory government had changed the OU because Thatcher ‘succumbed to Treasury pressure’ and that as a result ‘We now have the Not-Quite-So-Open University.’ While the government had not changed the total number of places at the OU it had sought to allow 18 year olds to study there, (it had previously been open only to those aged at least 21) and it had sought to increase ‘the contribution it can make to the general provision’. He concluded:

one of the most imaginative concepts of the Labour government will be used for a purpose for which it was never intended. Goodbye second chance for thousands who missed out early in life.

In December (Education & Training 12, 12) Short noted that while 25,000 students were to be admitted in 1971, as Labour had planned, a cap of 40,00 was placed on the numbers of 1973 and also the grant was fixed in order to encourage the OU to reduce its unit costs ‘which can only be done by lowering the quality of its service’. The journal in which he wrote also commented on the attitude of the new government. In December 1970 Education & Training (12, 12) editorialised about the OU:

This paper has been more critical than most of the way the original concept has been narrowed down. For some time at least it will educate the already educated, rather than the deprived for whom it was intended. That Mrs Thatcher [Conservative Education Minister] accedes to this dilution is regrettable but surprising… The Minister’s thinking on the Open University is akin to her thinking on school meals – to him that hath it shall be given… The tragedy is that there is a need for a Ministerial initiative, opposite to the one the Secretary of State has chosen to take. With its present biased intake of teachers and housewives, there is a need to correct some of its pretensions. A need to put the idea over to working people that at last there is an educational opportunity for them, that they may take as far as they like. Otherwise Jenny Lee’s Grand Design will fail and the Open University sink to becoming the ACE [Advisory Centre for Education, a charity] of the goggle box.