Archive for November, 2022

Open to people, places, methods and ideas? Developing the pedagogy of the Open University

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

D Weinbren, Keynote at the Technological University, Dublin, January 2022


Available to students from January 1971, the UK-based Open University (OU), by being open to part-time adult learners regardless of their prior qualifications or disabilities, challenged the pre-Second World War status quo. This was when a very small minority of the population in Western societies, often men from the social elite, attended universities. The OU modelled how a central state could seek to direct technological, educational, cultural and economic developments and, through the use of short-term, teaching–only contracts and student fees, normalise a quasi-market within the university sector. At the same time its social democratic ethos, embodied in its Royal Charter objective, ‘to promote the educational well-being of the community generally’, informed its development of learner-centred collaborative engagement. This enabled it to support learners in Britain, in Ireland, including in the H Blocks and in many other countries. Its pedagogies will be illuminated through an assessment of its precedents, personalities and politics.

Book about OU history. Degrees of Freedom: Prison Education at The Open University

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

Degrees of Freedom: Prison Education at The Open University edited by Rod Earle & James Mehigan, Policy, 2019.

For half a century The Open University has provided higher education to those in prison. This book gives voice to ex-prisoners whose lives have been transformed by the education they received. It offers vivid personal testimonies, reflective vignettes and academic analysis of prison life and education in prison. It has chapters by both OU staff and former students.

Journal article about OU students

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

‘The Open University and Prison Education in the UK – the first 50 years’, Incarceration, Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 7, 1, 2021, (D Weinbren, J Mehigan, R Earle and A Pike).

Abstract: In 2019, The Open University (henceforth, The OU), based in Milton Keynes in the UK, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Since 1971 it has pioneered the delivery of Higher Education in prisons and other secure settings. Some 50 years on, in 2021 there is much to celebrate and still more to learn. In this article we briefly review the establishment of the OU in 1969 and explore how it has maintained access to higher education in the prison system. It draws from a collection of essays and reflections on prison learning experiences developed by OU academics and former and continuing OU students in prison (Earle & Mehigan, 2019). We begin by outlining the unique features of the OU and the circumstances of its establishment in the post-war period in the UK. We then present an account of its work with students in prison in the UK (and elsewhere) and conclude with some critical reflections on the place and prospects of higher education in an expanding Higher Education sector and an escalating preference for carceral punishment in the UK. No country on Earth can match the penal preferences of the United States, but the UK’s habit of slipstreaming behind its massive carceral bulk tends to obscure the fact that the UK punishes more people with imprisonment, and with longer sentences, than any other Western European state. It also manages to exceed the United States in rates of racial disproportionality in its carceral population (Phillips, 2013). Despite these outlier features in incarceration, a silver lining to the carceral cloud can be found in The OU’s pioneering work with imprisoned men and women.

Keywords: education, prison, prisoner, The Open University