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Innovative curriculum design

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Clip: A section of the 1969 Report of the Planning Committee
Duration: 00:01:03
Date: 2019

Multidisciplinary curriculum at The Open University has continuously evolved throughout its history to meet changing circumstances, but it has also, more recently, adapted in response to external pressures that have led to the introduction of subject-specific degrees of varying types alongside it. However, in essence, it still provides the freedom for students to design their own qualifications in response to their own personal and/or professional needs, whilst also expanding the range of learning and credit that they can count towards an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification.

The evolution of multidisciplinary qualifications

The creation of the OU’s curriculum was strongly influenced by the ‘Robbins Report’ (Committee on Higher Education, 1963) that not only recommended immediate expansion of the number of universities and university students but also that, “a higher proportion should be receiving a broader education for their first degrees.”

In the early days, the basic objectives of an undergraduate education at the OU were:

  • To provide students with a range of multidisciplinary foundation courses;
  • To provide students with a range of courses which allow those who do not want to centre their studies on one particular area to plan a coherent basic degree programme;
  • To provide students with an opportunity to ‘major’ in a number of ‘areas of study’.

The founders of the OU acknowledged the suggestion made in the Robbins Report that students should be allowed to postpone their choice of ‘speciality’ until the end of their first year. As a result, students were required to start their study at Stage 1 by taking two Foundation courses, which were offered in Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Science and Technology, thereby introducing them to a mixture of subjects at the start of their studies. In many respects, we might consider these Foundation courses to be the precursor to the OU’s current Access provision (at OU level 0) or ‘Key Introductory’ modules (at OU level 1, many of which still offer a broad interdisciplinary approach).

Despite the eventual introduction of subject-focused degrees in the 2000s in response to student demand for named degrees, the OU has continued to offer students the opportunity to tailor-make their own qualifications in line with the original mission of the OU founders, to provide a broad-based, complementary undergraduate education, for those that choose not to specialise in any one discipline area.

Innovative curriculum design (page 1 of 4)