Archive for July, 2010

New university college

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010


The development of the OU needs to be understood within the broader development of the HE sector and that sector changed in July 2010 when the London-based BPP, which has 14 regional branches, was permitted to become a university college. (more…)

Guess which year? (2)

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Headline spotted in the Times Educational Supplement:

Plan for extension college to become OU’s vocational feeder

This discusses a proposal for the National Extension College to become a ‘vocational partner’ for the Open University. (more…)

Shallow minds?

Friday, July 16th, 2010

In ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains (Norton, 2010) Nicholas Carr suggested that acquiring new tools and skills changes us because using them forms new connections in the brain. This echoes the ideas of Marshall (the media is the message) McLuhan, who once said that ‘the future of the book is the blurb’. Long before him Plato also took the view that our tools affect our thoughts.

There is plenty of evidence that the brain is adaptable. A London cab driver who knows how to get about the capital, that is has ‘the knowledge’, has a hippocampus (the part of the brain where such information is stored and used) larger than most of the rest of us. Brain scans indicate that the web strengthens our “primitive” mental functions (quick decision-making and problem-solving). Many studies (in Nature and elsewhere) have concluded that gaming leads to improvements in performance on various cognitive tasks, from visual perception to sustained attention. Bjarki Valtysson ‘Access culture: Web 2.0 and cultural participation’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 16, 2, 2010, pp. 200 — 214, demonstrated how digital communication and new media platforms enhance cultural participation.

However, Carr argued that another aspect of this plasticity is that, given the opportunity to dip and sample, we tend to be more easily distracted and interrupted and to use the processes associated with reading less. To employ the analogy of the brain as a computer, our circuits are being reprogrammed by our gadgets. (more…)

Vince Cable on the OU

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

On 15th July 2010, former Labour councillor and economics lecturer at Glasgow University, Vince Cable MP who was, according to his autobiography (‘Free Radical – A Memoir’)  ‘one of the first generation of Open University tutors” made his ‘first attempt to set out my views on the university, and wider, HE sector and my aspirations for it’ (see here). In regard to The Open University, which he called ‘a world leader in distance learning’, the  Business Secretary in the  Department for Business, Innovation and Skills proposed that more students could be encouraged to save money by staying at home and studying for university degrees externally, along the lines of Open University courses. (more…)

Guess which year?

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Some quotes from The Open University Vice-Chancellor:

The year has seen continued efforts throughout the University to preserve academic standards and maintain basic services to students, in the face of declining funding levels.

I state simply that the OU is uniquely placed to meet future demand in higher education, and to maintain and develop its position as an outstanding institution of higher education and training – the leading exponent of distance teaching in the UK – well into the 21st century and beyond.


Various national developments were very relevant, including the government’s policy of a switch towards science and technology in higher education, an increasing stress on the role of distance learning…and the introduction of new technologies… [The OU is] well placed  to respond effectively to these major national initiatives. (more…)

Birthday greetings

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Today, 5 June 201o, the NHS is 62 years old and, I trust, not yet ready to be retired. This posting is about how it was an inspiration for the OU. The NHS was a policy which owed much to the 1942 Beveridge Report, a report of such significance that Jennie Lee made it the central plank of her by-election campaign of that year. She didn’t win that seat but she did win another and was returned to the Commons in 1945, along with her spouse, Nye Bevan. He was the Minister who introduced the NHS. In 1964 Jennie Lee, by then widowed, was given the task of ensuring that an idea for a university of the air became reality and she made a connection to her late husband. The PM, Harold Wilson recalled her contribution when the Cabinet and Labour Party National Executive Committee met at Chequers prior to the 1966 General Election:

At the end of the afternoon anybody was free to speak on anything. Jennie got up and made a passionate speech about the University of the Air. She said the greatest creation of the previous Labour government was Nye’s National Health Service but that now we were engaged on an operation which would make just as much difference to the country. We were all impressed. She was a tigress.

During the first few years after the OU campus in Milton Keynes was opened much of the new town was a series of rather desolate muddy building sites. Jennie arranged for the Bevan Fund to pay for a bar to be installed in Walton Hall and she hung Nye’s cap and a photo of him there. The first Vice Chancellor of the OU, Walter Perry, called this new meeting place ‘a godsend’ and said that it was the ‘focal point for much of the early discussion and planning’.