Naomi Sargant

To coincide with International Women’s Day, the second feature in our series about pioneering staff of The Open University features Naomi Sargant

Title: Why were we chosen as students?
Duration: 00:02:57
Date: 1971
Title: The nature of OU students
Duration: 00:04:26
Date: 1981

To coincide with International Women’s Day, the second feature in our series about pioneering staff of The Open University features the OU’s, and Britain’s, first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1974-1978, Naomi Sargant.*

Naomi Sargant (1933-2006) was one of the most distinguished adult educators of the post-war era, professor of social research and pro-vice-chancellor of the Open University, Channel 4’s First senior commissioning editor for educational programming, an influential advisor to governments and non-governmental organisations, and an early enthusiast for the consumer movement. In short, she was a public intellectual of the first rank, a woman whose ideas and vision have marked British society and institutions widely and deeply.

From “Lifelong Learning: A brave and proper vision. Selected writings of Naomi Sargant” Edited by Andrew McIntosh, Derek Jones, Alan Tuckett and Alan Woodley. Published by NIACE in 2009.

The following text is taken from her obituary published in Open House (issue 408) in 2006:

“A pioneer of lifelong learning, Naomi Sargant campaigned tirelessly to create opportunities for anyone who wanted to learn. She innovated credit transfers between the OU and polytechnics, demanded local college centres for distance learners and, in a second career at Channel 4, commissioned numerous shows that redefined and revolutionised educational broadcasting.

Joe Clinch, who as University Registrar, worked closely with Naomi, said she was a major figure in the early days of the OU because she so fiercely “championed the student cause.”

She was the advocate for putting the interests of students at the heart of university decision-making and for promoting student access to the university,” he said.

…it was her appointment to the OU in 1970 that gave her real influence in lifelong education. As PVC for Student Affairs and Professor of Applied Social Research, Naomi was concerned with how students coped with course material and how – in an age before VCRs – they were able to watch the courses’ accompanying television programmes.

Assistant Secretary Roger Walters, who worked closely with her, recalled: “Naomi was one of the great characters of the OU in the 1970s. She was deeply committed to the underlying principles of the OU of providing the opportunity of university education for those who had not previously enjoyed this. One of her greatest achievements as PVC was to lay the foundations for the strong and effective students association which we have today. She believed passionately in the importance of taking on board the views of students, and this was reflected both in her work in IET, researching students’ views on courses and our support systems, and also in supporting and developing an effective system of student representation on university committees.”

[Naomi] left the OU in 1981 to take up a post at the soon-to-be-launched Channel 4, where her innovative commissions of education programmes were ultimately recognised with induction into the Royal Television Society’s Hall of Fame.”

In the first video clip taken from the first ‘Open Forum’ recorded in 1971, Naomi explains how the first OU students were selected.

In the second video clip from ‘Countdown to the OU’ transmitted in 1981 but recorded three years earlier, Naomi talks about the types of students who have studied with the OU up to that point and how gathering information helps OU staff plan the courses.

*Following her marriage to Lord Andrew McIntosh of Haringey, Naomi Sargant was also known as Lady McIntosh.