Walter James


Professor Walter James, the founder Dean of the Faculty of Educational Studies, born in 1924, died on Christmas Day 2010.

The son of a railway fireman, later an engine driver, Walter James attended Grammar School due to a scholarship but had to leave aged 16 as his family could not afford for him to remain in full-time education. He joined the Royal Navy aged 18 and after war service he trained as a teacher. He was a mature student at Nottingham University between 1952 and 1955 and then a lecturer in adult education there. While working at the Department of Adult Education, Nottingham he worked on a project to integrate television broadcasts and correspondence materials into a university course. Associated Television and the University of Nottingham produced a 13-week course which 1,250 people completed. It included programmes, written notes, two tutorials and a residential weekend attended by 200 people.

Following his appointment to the OU he sought out others who had used a variety of distance teaching techniques, visiting both the University of Wisconsin Extension and the USA Forces Institute, a centre for correspondence-based education which was based nearby and had links with the Wisconsin.

He recognised the need to structure the university so as to ensure it was open, suggesting that the challenge was ‘to devise a higher education curriculum which would attract and allow success to those for whom the present curriculum is irrelevant, inadequate and inappropriate’ ( Walter James, ‘’Supporting the elite’, Open House, 94, 6 December, 1973). An element of this theme was his defence of the OU unusual modular degree structure whereby assessment was carried out during the degree, not only at the end of the degree. He argued that because its students studied part-time, registered for one course (that is module) at a time and often left gaps between courses (modules), ‘it is inevitable therefore that the university has a credit course structure for its degree award… it is a consequence of this degree structure in the context of continuing education provision, that the university has a credit exemptions policy’ (W. James, ‘Not a solution but a start’ New Academic 2, 13 May 1971, pp. 1-2, p. 1).

In 1977 he was awarded the CBE for services to voluntary organisations and the community. He retired in 1984 and moved to Eastbourne in 1991 where he served as a Liberal Democrat councillor on the Eastbourne Borough Council between 1994-98. He helped to establish seniors’ forums across East Sussex and also chaired the Eastbourne, Seaford and Wealden Community Health Council between 1998-2002.

The funeral will take place at St Mary’s Church, Old Town, Eastbourne on Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 1pm.

If you have memories of working with Walter James, do share them here.

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