The ‘people’s universities’?

The death in January this year of Eric Robinson is an event which could be noted by historians of the OU because the 1966 White Paper which became the basis for the OU was published within months of the decision to create the polytechnics with which Robinson was so closely associated. The title of his book, The New Polytechnics: The People’s Universities (1968) indicates that there were competing ideas as to the best way to open up higher education and support students living at home. He starts the text with the words:

Sooner or later this country must face a comprehensive form of education beyond school – a reform which will bring higher education out of the ivory towers and make it available to all. … The future pattern of higher education in this country can be set in the development of these institutions [ie the polytechnics] as comprehensive people’s universities. This book is written in the hope of accelerating this process.

His vision of education might well have been shared by many staff at the OU. While the approaches of many polytechnics differed from the approach of the OU, there were some common roots. In a critique of the ‘disaster’ of Blair’s educational policies Robinson stressed the importance of  ‘democratic control of education’ and concluded that

Socialist education is to promote the power of the people, to make democracy work and to empower individuals to direct their own lives and not to tolerate being pushed around by those with “merit”.

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