Finnish link

One of the benefits of exploring the history of the OU is that it opportunities arise to meet colleagues from overseas. When Katja Varjos, from Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Finland, visited the OU she said something about her teaching experiences.

Her university is a little younger than the OU and, in common with the OU, Lahti prides itself on its range of partnerships and company projects and its versatile and practical teaching methods. The institution accepts students of all ages and they are all funded by the state with grants. While much of the contact is face-to-face, Katja Varjos intends to develop the university’s engagement with elearning.

Finland has a tradition of adults using university sites for studying in a way akin to OU summer school for around a century. In the 1970s there was some small-scale regional open education in Finland. In the 1980s Finnish universities (there are now 28 universities of applied sciences and 20 other universities) were encouraged by the Ministry of Education to establish centres for extension studies. Finland has, like the OU sought to learn from industrial production when it comes to running universities in an efficient manner. The chief administrator of the Department for Education and Science Policy at the Ministry of Education in Finland, Mikko Niemi once called the modern mass university a huge production plant which could be used to promote social goals. At the OU, perhaps as a strategy for coping with such large numbers of learners, mass industrial processes were developed, with ‘lines of study’ rather than faculties and ‘production’ of ‘units’ of teaching materials. The first Dean of Social Sciences argued that The Open University was ‘the industrial revolution of higher education’. In the 1990s, in order to reduce youth unemployment, the Finnish system was expanded. As with the UK there were tensions between the engagement with open access and academic values. Like Lahti University of Applied Sciences the OU has had to adapt to changing economic circumstances and with the convergence of aims and methods which is now being experienced by both ‘distance’ and ‘face-to-face’ universities.

3 Responses to “Finnish link”

  1. Katja Varjos Says:

    I really like that argument “The OU was the industrial revolution of higher education”. It is just what I am looking for, what to benchmark to.

  2. Daniel Weinbren Says:

    Otto Peters was one of the earliest people to present universities in this way. See his, ‘Theoretical aspects of correspondence instruction’, in O. MacKenzie & E. L. Christensen (eds.), The changing world of correspondence study, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 1971 and also Otto Peters, ‘Distance education and industrial production: a comparative interpretation in outline’ in D. Sewart, D. Keegan and B. Holmberg (eds.), Distance Education: international perspectives, Croom Helm, Bechenham, 1983.

    The first Dean of Social Sciences was the person who argued that the Open University was ‘the industrial revolution of higher education’. See Michael Drake, ‘The Open University concept’, Studies. An Irish Quarterly Review, Summer 1972, 61, 242, p.158.

    Greville Rumble, who joined the OU in 1970 and was head of the Open University’s corporate planning office in the mid-1970s, and also in the late-1980s, suggested that ‘during the 1970s industrialisation came to be seen by many as a defining feature of distance education’ (see Greville Rumble, ‘labour market theories and distance education: industrialization and distance education’, Open Learning, 10, 1, February 1995, pp.10-20 (p.14)).

    Like much associated with that which has been termed Fordism, the OU appeared to thrive in the protected national market, able through the efficiency of a complex organisation, to mass produce standardised products at low cost by fragmenting work tasks.

  3. Dominic Newbould Says:

    When I joined the OU in 1978, some colleagues used to say – wryly, I thought – that they were working in “an education factory”. For academics from traditional and conventional campus universities, the idea of intensive teamwork, against real deadlines and with strict budgets, to create courses that might have students registered and studying, while the later parts of the courses were still being designed and written – this idea was painful and there were many teething problems before it was fully accepted.
    The pressure of deadlines was difficult for many, who were used only to delivering lectures, often the same series of lectures, repeated with little modification every year. Writing course “units”, having them critiqued by your peers as well as external assessors, and then having the whole lot picked over by an editor… these were demanding times and it took time to acclimatise to these new expectations.
    Some courses were developmentally tested first, with small groups of students, for credit or not, as the case may be. They were then further refined until they were as good as possible. Coupled with first VC, Walter Perry’s constant urging “Never compromise on quality”, it is easy to understand how the OU quickly gained respect and credibility, to the extent that other universities began to use its materials and imitate some of its methods.

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