Michael Young’s vision? Harold Wilson’s pet?

On his blog Labour Party activist Paul Richards argues that modern Britain has been shaped by the movements and institutions that Michael Young (1915-2002) inspired. Young, he suggests 

added to the sum of civil society by launching new entrants to it. By empowering individuals through new forms of organization, he hoped to build new forms of egalitarian community… Young’s ideas were often the spark, but his gift was to be able to cut loose his creations as fast as possible, and allow new people to take over. He launched ships; he didn’t captain them.

While  a recognition of Young’s enthusiasm to broaden educational opportunities is welcome, there may be some who will take issue with Paul Richards proposal that The Open University is one of a number of institutions which ‘owe everything to Young’s vision’. There were not many founders of the OU, but even selecting just from within the ranks of the Labour Party the names of Jennie Lee and Harold Wilson should be mentioned.

This point has been made by others. Denis Lawton, called the OU ‘a very rare example of socialist ideas of equality and community being applied to the elitist world of higher educaiton Wilson has not always been given sufficient credit for this initiative’.  Ben Pimlott said of the OU that ‘it was Wilson who made the running. The Open University became his pet scheme…’ (Denis Lawton, Education and Labour Party ideologies 1900-2001 and beyond, RoutledgeFalmer, Abingdon,2005, p. 70; Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson, HarperCollins, London, 1992 p. 514).  On 7th December, the Daily Mirror, in a report suggesting that The Open University will face £84m worth of funding cuts, called Wilson the creator of the OU. 

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