Archive for December, 2011

state and society: mutual aid across the dichotomy

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Open University is largely funded by the state and yet it has supported the creation of voluntary organisations such as the FACHRS. Getting the balance right between the state and other sectors can be tricky. On the centenary of legislation which enabled voluntary bodies to administrate on behalf of the state Dan Weinbren reflects on these matters.

Quality, Value and Flexibility

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The recent announcement to staff at the OU that current economic frameworks indicate that the OU needs to market itself is a reminder that the OU has always been in the marketplace, and that it has long had an interest in sustaining popularity. For many years other state-funded universities did not feel any need to compete. Until the era of grant-funding these institutions selected young people who often studied at the university near their homes. Even after grants were provided many universities felt little need to prove themselves worthy either to the public at large or the politicians.

By contrast the OU has always been out there, seeking and gaining, popular acclaim. This is because

  • It has roots in the commercial sector – notably correspondence courses and Fordist production methods and divisions of labour. It is not afraid of the marketplace
  • Its teaching materials could be scrutinised as they appeared on public television. It has been a talking pointing in ways other universities have not.
  • Initially it was directly controlled by the Minister, rather than being run through the same committee that other universities were.  It was subject to debates in Parliament and closer investigation than other universities.
  • Its Charter commitment is to the social goal of ‘the educational well-being of the community generally’. From the start it has felt a need to engage with its market. This has never been an institution designed simply to train or corral an elite.

The legacy of Vic Finkelstein

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

News has reached us of the death of Vic Finkelstein on 30 November. Born in 1938, Finkelstein grew up in South Africa and was imprisoned for anti-apartheid activities in the 1960s. He came to Britain in 1968, where he helped found UPIAS (Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation) and developed the ‘Social Model of Disability’. His view was that the focus should be ‘on the need to change the disabling society rather than make us fit for society’. Finkelstein was a tutor on the OU’s ground-breaking disability course P853 The handicapped person in the community, which began in 1975 and to which Finkelstein contributed to several broadcasts. (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…)

What have we learnt?: Scholarship of engagement

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

One of the outcomes of the What Have We Learnt? Event is that we have decided to build stronger links between researchers interested in how universities create and maintain communities. This interest connects to the interests of others at the OU and across the UK.

Paul Manners is the director of the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement. The Centre was set up in 2008 in recognition of a looming crisis in public trust and understanding of higher education. The THES of 24th November 2011 quotes Paul as saying that it is


What we learnt at ‘What have we learnt?’

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Prof Harold Silver at What have we learnt?The History of the OU Project was pleased to host a successful one-day forum What have we learnt? Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning on 29 November. With papers from academics from a variety of traditions this event enabled educationalists, educational technologists, historians and adult education practitioners to gain new perspectives on the OU and the wider development of the HE sector since 1945. 

 A Senior Research Fellow in IET at the OU, Martyn Cooper, attended the event and swiftly told his colleagues, ‘Today I attended the excellent “What have we learnt? – Transmitting knowledge, facilitating learning c1960-2010” seminar organised by the History of the OU project’. His blog posting is here