Professor Don Swift

The OUDA takes a closer look at some of the pioneering staff who have contributed to The Open University during the past five decades. We start with Don Swift.

Title: Don Swift
Duration: 00:02:30
Date: 1978

January 20th 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Professor Don Swift who joined the Open University in 1970 as founding Professor of Educational Studies. Professor Swift was appointed PVC for Staff at the OU in 1976, when the post was created, and remained in post until 1981 when he left the university to work in distance education in the Far East.

Following Don Swift's death in 1997 his former OU colleague Peter Woods wrote an obituary for the OU staff magazine Open House, an extract of which you can read here:

"Don Swift was an original. He was one of the first professors in the sociology of education, and helped establish the discipline in the 1960s with some well-judged articles and one particularly notable widely used text still selling today. He also established the still strongly running journal 'Sociology of Education Abstracts'. An original at The Open University, he initiated and chaired the first courses in the sociology of education in the early 1970s. 

These were exciting times, both in establishing distance education and in launching the 'new sociology of education', which broadened the approach from its previously predominantly quantitative stance and opened up many new areas of the educational system and processes to sociological enquiry. The hugely influential E282 'Education and Society' had over 3000 per year in the early stages. This was followed by E352 'Education, Economy and Politics', and E202 'Schooling and Society'. That these courses succeeded as they did owed much to [Don's] vision, to his faith and commitment to teaching at a distance, to his humanity and sociability which enabled the teams he chaired to have their debates, but also to rise above them when necessary, and to his willingness to talk at length about anything at any time with anybody, often well into the evening if necessary.

Don went on to new initiatives - as PVC (Staff) and then to Hong Kong, where he made a massive contribution to the opening up of distance education in a region of great need. He later took his skills and insatiable drive to South Africa where he was undertaking a similar task when his untimely death occurred."

Don Swift was the first Director of the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong which later became The Open University of Hong Kong.

The image on this page shows Don Swift with Pro Vice-Chancellor Naomi McIntosh at an OU graduation ceremony.

The video clip features Professor Don Swift addressing an OU graduation ceremony audience at Alexandra Palace in 1978. In this short extract from his speech he talks about the importance of lifelong education.