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Reflections at the halfway point of The Open University's 50th anniversary

John D'Arcy, National Director of The Open University in Ireland.

As we enter the latter half of 2019 we also enter the latter half of The Open University’s 50th anniversary year. When the OU was established in 1969 it was with a clear purpose: to open up education to all – it was, and remains, a radical idea that still makes us different today. Throughout our anniversary year, The Open University has aimed to inspire pride, unity and involvement by celebrating our students who sit at the core of everything that we do.

At the beginning of April, the OU in Ireland held two events at Croke Park in Dublin that culminated in a degree ceremony celebrating the achievement of students from across the globe. The Dublin Degree Ceremony was a special occasion marked by a thought-provoking speech from the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, endorsing The Open University’s mission statement, the importance of education and our work across Ireland. The degree ceremony followed an anniversary dinner that featured Pro-Chancellor Malcom Sweeting and an interview with OU alumna Gillian Quinn. On May 15 the OU held a similar anniversary dinner in Belfast City Hall. This event was sponsored and opened by the former Lord Mayor of Belfast Councillor Deirdre Hargey, who awarded the OU the Lord Mayor’s Certificate for its contribution to education in Belfast. In front of over one hundred guests including staff, students, alumni supporters and partners, Claire O’Kane received a long service award for recognition of 45 years of working with the OU. July saw the National Student Survey results published with the OU achieving 92 per cent overall student satisfaction in Northern Ireland. The Open University has now topped the university student satisfaction table in Northern Ireland for the 15th year in a row.  These events and results highlight student involvement from all backgrounds and places, showing the effectiveness of the OU in opening up education to all.

Research is a fundamental aspect of widening access to education, as it underpins the teaching that all OU students receive. Being innovative allows us to solve problems by turning ideas into solutions that can benefit others. An area where this is highlighted is The Open University’s involvement with various fairs and festivals this year such as ‘Imagine! Belfast’s Festival of Ideas and Politics’, ‘Sligo Engineers’ Week’, Digital DNA, BelTech, the ‘European Prison Education Association Conference’ and the ‘Northern Ireland Science Festival’.  Our academics are at the forefront of research and innovative technologies, and through these events they have managed to pass on their passions and knowledge. A prime example is the first in a series of OpenTALKS that were held in Ireland this year. Phil Sexton and Mark Brandon used their experience working on the BBC/OU co-production ‘Blue Planet II’ in ‘Blue Planet II: The science behind the series’, touching on not just their own expertise but the crisis the oceans currently face and the important nature of the long-running partnership between the OU and the BBC, a partnership that has seen numerous co-production programmes air this year with more to come. Further OpenTALKS this year have touched on mental health, with more ahead on subjects ranging from dementia care using music to history through the lens of Game of Thrones. The events we have held as part of our 50th have helped world-leading OU academics to deliver life-changing benefits and ideas across the island of Ireland.

Throughout the year the OU has celebrated the anniversary with students, staff and stakeholders but a key theme has been looking towards the future. One case where this has been especially pertinent is the launch of The Open University’s Time to Think archive. A partnership between the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, the Ireland team, the OU Library, staff and students, the Time to Think archive focuses on the OU journeys of Loyalist and Republican ex-prisoners. The potential uses of the audio archive going forward, and what we can learn from the past, are another example of how the OU is trying to highlight the importance of this special anniversary.

While the OU may be celebrating the 50th anniversary all year, there was still an official birthday. On 23 April the offices in both Belfast and Dublin celebrated Charter Day, the date that the OU Royal Charter was signed. The OU across all nations celebrated the way The Open University has transformed access to education, creating excitement for another 50 years of open, ambitious, innovate and inclusive education.

The Open University reaches people who would otherwise have had no opportunity to learn at higher education level. It changes lives, offers people access to education whatever their circumstance or location, and strives for everyone to reach their potential. It is an institution and household name that has had a radical impact on society and we believe this is something worth celebrating. Having hosted or taken part in over 50 events already this year, there are still many more to come.


If you’d like to get involved or find out more information on all things OU50 then visit the special 50th anniversary page at:

For media enquiries:

Contact Christine Murphy

Communications Manager
Tel 028 9053 6219