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The first decade 1972-1982

(page 1 of 4)

Written by the Students Association Digital Exhibition project team

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Article and photograph from The Open University student newspaper
Image : Association is a reality at last
Date: 1973
Clip: Open University Students Association Structure
Duration: 00:03:28
Date: 1973

Whilst The Open University celebrated its 50th birthday on 23 April 2019, what many people don’t know is that it took a three-year-long battle by pioneer students for the establishment of a body to represent them, just as their fellow students had in traditional universities. 

The long haul in setting up the Association had been caused by the need for thorough consultation, and concerns from the University about logistical requirements, such as finding satisfactory electoral machinery to form the student elect, due to the time-consuming and costly nature of a nationwide vote. 

Further stumbling blocks were found in the form of resistance from local associations, which were created in the period between the OU’s foundation and official sign off for the OU Students Association. Some members noted objections to the way in which the Association was to be created and that it did not represent local associations. 

After much campaigning and hard work, in 1972 the University’s Council approved the formation of an Open University Students Association on 16th May. It would take another seven months before the first President Millicent Marsland and 33 other elected Student Representatives, would travel from across the OU regions to meet for the first time at Walton Hall. 

At this first meeting, it was agreed that the approximate 50 local groups would be invited to seek financial and other advice from the new organisation on the formation of new branches. In addition to the Association’s Student Representatives, the University’s Council were also present. 

Dr Jim Barber, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for staff and student affairs launched a debate at the meeting on the purpose of the Association stating, “You meet today under a constitution which has been agreed by the University Council after a lot of consultation. Inevitably there will be aspects of the constitution you won’t like. What we aimed to do is lay down a fairly loose constitution and one which gives you an opportunity in the early years to develop. It is not just the formal structure that counts, it’s how you use it that will shape the Association." 

The Association would also have to face the challenge of appointing full-time staff. Up until that point Sheena Gordon, on a short-term contract as Association organiser, had encouraged grass roots activity by travelling all over the Country. 

The Association was given an annual £15,000 grant by the OU, out of which it had to pay employees and pay a proposed £1,200 per year to the University’s Data Processing department in order to collect membership fees. The planned £1 membership fee for students would then also contribute to the running costs of the Association. 

Despite noting that whilst he didn’t think Council wanted to get involved in the workings of the Association, and would simply pay general concern to it, Dr Barber’s comments that, “The formal position is that the Staff and Student Affairs board has a clearly defined responsibility for the Students Association… I hope we will be prepared to help without trying to dictate or smother...” demonstrated that the Association still had some way to go to become the independent representative organisation that recognise today… 

The first decade 1972-1982 (page 1 of 4)