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Being A Pioneer

(page 1 of 5)

The 1970s Open University PhD experience through recorded living experience of its graduates

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Professor Max Bramer: "once the first graduates came out at the end of '72, the whole situation changed"
Duration: 00:00:56
Date: 2021
Dr Alfred Vella & Professor Neil Wynn: "it was extremely odd… to find a university in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside"
Duration: 00:02:37
Date: 2021
Professor Stephen Potter: "the atmosphere was hurried and near-chaotic - I fitted in perfectly!"
Duration: 00:03:00
Date: 2021

Being Exciting

The opening of The Open University in 1969 was exciting and revolutionary. In 1970 a Conservative government was elected which was unsympathetic towards the OU, which it associated with Harold Wilson's Labour government. Despite then Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher’s unexpected support of the OU’s low-cost higher education model, its future was uncertain, and it had some high-profile critics both in the new government and from some traditional universities. This video excerpt from Max Bramer's interview where he says "once the first graduates came out at the end of '72, the whole situation changed" illustrates the precarious nature of the OU's future at the time. Against this backdrop, the decision to start research and PhD study became integral to the academic credibility and long-term survival of the OU. This sense of urgency and the excitement of pioneering a new higher education vanguard, starting from scratch, with no blueprint to work from meant that research at the OU in the 1970s was an unconventional place to be. In Stephen Potter's interview he describes this atmosphere and how he intuitively felt he fitted in.

For the first couple of years Walton Hall was a mud-covered building site, with minimal facilities, indeed, as Neil Wynn describes in this video clip, "it was extremely odd... to find a university in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside". Specific to research, there was no library and no laboratories. Vice Chancellor Walter Perry aimed to start recruiting high profile professors to boost the OU’s academic credentials and part of attracting them meant investing in resources and facilities and in research staff and PhD studentships.  

Our cohort describe applying for studentships advertised in science magazines or following professors with whom they had initially started their PhD at another university. Jeff Haywood started at Imperial College, London with Professor Steven Rose and moved with him to the OU in 1971. Those applying for advertised studentships describe an exhilarating atmosphere of “anything is possible”. For Bill Morris and Stephen Potter this was combined with a slightly chaotic interview process at the Walton Hall campus, but a place where they knew they wanted to be. Stephen recounts "the atmosphere was hurried and near-chaotic - I fitted in perfectly!". In all, 55 students were recorded as graduating with PhDs between 1973 and 1979. 

Being A Pioneer (page 1 of 5)