Half a century on from the white heat

It was 1st October 1963. Having just outlined his plans for a University of the Air, which could he said, make a great contribution to the cultural life of the country and the enrichment of the standard of living, Harold Wilson received a standing ovation at the Labour Party’s Scarborough conference. Next on the agenda was a motion on higher education and scientific manpower. It was moved by a union representative, Sir William Carron of the AEU and seconded by David Grugeon of the Socialist Education Association. Mr Grugeon appealed for an end to the present divisions in the educational system – an end to stratification, streaming, and selection. The educational opportunity must be provided for everybody to ‘go as far as you can for as long as you can benefit’.

David Grugeon, who at the time was working with Michael Young and Brian Jackson to create the National Extension College (NEC), later recalled the context of how, soon after Wilson had announced his proposed ‘University of the Air’, the NEC merged with the University Correspondence College which enabled the fledging organisation to trial some of the delivery methods that the new university could employ. He then spoke at the conference:

The following day The Guardian had my photo on the front page, with a quote from my speech: ‘the comprehensive principle applies in higher education as well’. The next month we ran Dawn University Week from the Cambridge Engineering Labs, with five weekday breakfast lectures at 7.15am (including Raymond Williams and Fred Hoyle), networked throughout the UK via Anglia TV. We also ran a lecture from Cambridge to first year students at the new University of East Anglia at Norwich, and a postgraduate seminar between Cambridge and Imperial College, London. One quarter of a million people viewed the broadcasts. I recruited friends to open the first 1000 applications for correspondence study. We also designed the first residential weekend courses to be held for NEC correspondence students at a hostel of Clare College Cambridge in January ’64. Professor Roy Shaw of Keele University offered us facilities and staff for weeklong summer schools for London External Degree students in English and Maths from Summer ’64 for students working on their own who had ‘never met a tutor before’. These were some of the seeds of a revolution leading to mass higher education that were planted in the early ‘60s by the combination of old and new technologies and the enthusiastic cooperation of people in old and new institutions. For a 24 year old I felt, along with Wordsworth: ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was very heaven’.

David Grugeon is now a member of the Steering Group of the History Of The Open University Project .

One Response to “Half a century on from the white heat”

  1. Michael Hawksworth Says:

    Dear sir / madam
    I am enquiring about early TV programmes made by ATV ? Norman Collins a novelist and TV executive and my father in law Fred Bayliss were involved in 1965 as a pilot or precursor to the OU. Broadcast on Sunday mornings called The Standard of Living, about applied economics.
    The economist Dr Fred Bayliss my father in law has recently died and we are arranging a memorial for him. He wrote a Fabian pamphlet, Making the Minimum Wage Work in 1991 and the book British Wages Councils and co-authored Contemporary British Industrial Relations with Sid Kessler.
    Could David Grugeon or any of your team shed any light on this – I appreciate that in he early days of TV there was the ability to transmit but not record so there may not be a recordings of the programme, but any info would be appreciated.
    Mick hawksworth

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