Deaths and the OU’s near death experience

It was 41 years ago that Iain Macleod the Chancellor of the Exchequer died. The death occurred at 11.35pm on 20 July 1970 while he was in 11 Downing Street and, according to Patricia Hollis p. 339, while the papers which would enable him to close the OU were on his desk. Macleod is credited with the view that the OU was ‘blithering nonsense’  (Daily Telegraph, 17 February, 1969). The first Dean of Arts at the OU, John Ferguson, said that Macleod’s view of the OU was that he was

rigorously and almost fanatically against it… had declared publicly that if the thing were set up, his party would abolish it… There is no doubt that Macleod’s sudden death, lamentable for national leadership in other ways, eased the University’s infancy (Ferguson, The Open University from within, pp. 13, 26).

Although Macleod’s last testament ‘acquired a special sanctity from the untimely death of its author’, Thatcher, motivated according to George Gardiner, by ‘her strong belief in giving educational opportunity to those prepared to work for it’, kept the OU.

 There was also ‘a powerful departmental lobby promoting its preservation’ argued Hugo Young pp. 69, 70.  Ben Pimlott  p. 515, suggested that ‘‘the enthusiasm of the Thatcher and Major administrations for the Open University has owed more to its low unit costs than to the ideals which inspired Wilson to found it.’ The account of how Margaret Thatcher saved the Open University from extinction when Iain Macleod wanted to wanted to kill it off  ‘as one of Harold Wilson’s gimmicks’ was also told by the Conservative Baroness Carnegy of Lour (1925-2010. see obituary). Peter Syme also told us of another obituary. In an email he said that  it ‘deserves a place in the OU archive’. Between 1984 and 1996 she was on the Council of the Open University. She was interested in the  OU. In 2004 she noted that ‘The Open University in Scotland had a higher recruitment per head in Scotland than almost anywhere else in the country and argued that funding for students of the Open University in Scotland be done through the Scottish funding councils.

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