The Liberal Party and the OU

Following a leader in The Times Higher on 3 December 1971 which attributed the origins of the OU to Harold Wilson’s speech of 1963, a letter from Laurence Edwards was published in the newspaper the following week, 10 December 1971. Edwards claimed that Wilson was not first British politician to enthuse about an open university. Rather, he wrote, ‘the idea owes its inception to a meeting at the Liberal Party Council at least a year earlier as any Liberal pamphlet for the year 1962 can amply demonstrate’. The Liberal Democrat History Group Secretary helpfully investigated this claim and has concluded that the Liberal Party manifestoes for the 1959 or 1964 General Elections did not contain a commitment to set up anything like the OU (although this was also true of the Labour Party manifesto as the idea only appeared there in 1966). Furthermore, Jo Grimond, in The Liberal Future, Faber and Faber, London, 1959, p. 127 (written when he had been Liberal Party leader for three years) argued that  

of adult education I am sceptical. The intense desire for knowledge which existed fifty years ago seems to have evaporated or is now satisfied by TV and the papers. By all means let universities run extra-mural courses but modern adult education of people over twenty-five is largely a matter of providing ‘third programmes’ in various ways outside the educational system itself.

The Liberal Democrat History Group has also checked the list of Liberal Publications Department pamphlets issued between 1956-76, as contained in the catalogue of the  British Library and there is no publication listed which deals with the question of university, adult or further education.

Perhaps Edwards’ was misremembering events. If you know the sources to which he was referring, do let us know.

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