Vince Cable on the OU

On 15th July 2010, former Labour councillor and economics lecturer at Glasgow University, Vince Cable MP who was, according to his autobiography (‘Free Radical – A Memoir’)  ‘one of the first generation of Open University tutors” made his ‘first attempt to set out my views on the university, and wider, HE sector and my aspirations for it’ (see here). In regard to The Open University, which he called ‘a world leader in distance learning’, the  Business Secretary in the  Department for Business, Innovation and Skills proposed that more students could be encouraged to save money by staying at home and studying for university degrees externally, along the lines of Open University courses. This reflects a different view in regard to the roles and focus of the OU than those set out by many of the original proponents of a University of the Air. Dr Cable, a Liberal when an undergraduate and an early member of  the SDP in the 1980s, now appears to echo some of the ideas expressed by Education Secretary in the early 1970s. Margatet Thatcher. Taking office soon after the OU was opened she came to the view that an important benefit of the OU was that it was relatively inexpensive. She wanted it to run a  pilot scheme for 18-year olds which would place it in direct competition with other universities who sought to attract that age group. The OU now welcomes 18 year olds and it appears as if the Coalition government might like to see more of them seeking places, but 40 or so years ago the idea of them starting to study with the OU was novel and worried many people.

We hope that this blog will encourage people to analyse how the OU has changed, consider the various functions people have envisaged for it and help us understand its present and its future as well as its past.

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