Hats off to Drake

On 10th October, 2011 Michael Drake, the OU’s first Dean of Social Sciences, gave a talk in the Milton Keynes Village Hall to the Two Villages Archive Trust about on ‘The OU and me’. He employed the metaphor of industrialisation to describe the impact of the OU. This echoed a phrase that he had employed in 1972 when Michael Drake argued that the Open University was ‘the industrial revolution of higher education’ (M Drake, ‘The Open University concept’, Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, Summer 1972, LXI no 242, p. 158). Since then the idea of the comparison with industrialisation has been taken up by a number of others. Michael pointed to the division of labour, with some people writing courses, others contracted to teach them and others assessing the learners.  This was contrasted to the craft production that he had experienced as a lecturer when he had taught in universities in Dublin and Canterbury before he arrived at the OU. There he had been expected to write the teaching material, present it and assess the examinations. The scale of production at the OU, with thousands of items being posted out and hundreds of programmes made dwarfed the efforts of conventional universities to increase the number of graduates in the UK and, as Michael pointed out, citing the work of Leslie Wagner, the OU was seen as cost-efficient.

All of this was interspersed with an amusing series of anecdotes, only some of which are repeatable without the risk of legal action. There was then an opportunity for members of the audience to chip in with their own tales of OU/BBC productions and working for the OU. A small display was a popular element of the event. It featured newspaper clippings, information about pay scales and a course book cover image of Anne and Michael Drake dressed as, respectively, a nurse (‘I was actually wearing a chef’s hat’ Anne told me) and as an academic (signified by a mortar board, even though these are not worn at the OU the point was to try to signify different trades and professions).

Leave a Reply