Susan Stewart is the Director of The Open University in Scotland.
It’s almost a year to the day of the first national lockdown and the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our society, our economy and our workplaces. We have all had to adapt to an uncertain and changing world.
At The Open University we have been able to rapidly respond in supporting businesses, workers, families and communities during the pandemic through our online platforms and flexible learning opportunities. To help support employees who were furloughed and facing redundancy as a result of COVID-19, we offered funded places through the Scottish Government and Scottish Funding Council’s Upskilling and National Transition Training funds.
An employability skills project we piloted with staff and families of the Michelin tyre plant in Dundee has been rolled out to manufacturing and retail sectors. Through joint work with organisations such as the PACE, Department for Work and Pensions and Scotland’s local authorities, we are able to offer skills-based support to people across Scotland for an inclusive economic recovery.
A new focus on learning, reskilling and upskilling from the Parliament is vital as the nation recovers. The Open University can help support Scotland’s green recovery with its online model. More agile higher education provision, open to people at all stages of life, delivered flexibly and with shorter courses and modules focused on the skills we need are central to this.
For over 50 years, we have helped people across Scotland to develop their knowledge, acquire new skills and achieve life-changing qualifications wherever they live. Our supported, personalised distance learning model is a proven way of delivering at a national level yet sustaining local needs; 85% of our graduates remain in the location where their study was undertaken, retaining their talent and skills in those, often rural and remote, communities.
Everyone’s learner journey should be flexible to allow them to personalise their higher education experience, recognising the diversity of learners and their needs in Scotland. The Open University’s mission is to support students, whatever their age and regardless or prior qualifications, who do not follow a single linear learner journey from leaving school and moving straight away into full-time university.
Many learners instead choose to go to college first or pursue higher education at a later stage, perhaps due to work or family commitments, or financial reasons. This will be even more applicable in the post-pandemic environment as people return to study in order to gain new skills and improve eligibility for new employment opportunities in a future economy.
A key focus of our work is ensuring that people from Scotland’s most disadvantaged groups and communities can all access higher education at any stage of their lives to help improve their work and life opportunities. We work in partnership with SCVO and many third sector organisations to reach people from the most deprived areas, people with disabilities and chronic health conditions, carers, ethnic minority groups, and people with care experience. We embed support into our curriculum design and delivery at every stage of the student’s learning journey, including mental health support.
A flexible higher education system supporting skills development will ensure that all of Scotland's citizens play a valued and valuable part in Scotland's growth.
That spirit is central to the mission of The Open University: to open up education and lifelong learning to all our citizens, and to be a movement for change. To enable ordinary people to do extraordinary things. As Scotland recovers, we have a vital role to play.
This blog was originally published by Holyrood Magazine.
The case for an inclusive recovery will be explored further in a free webinar on Tuesday 23 March 2021, co-hosted by Holyrood Events and the OU in Scotland.
More information on how we're supporting people across Scotland is on our Upskilling Scotland webpage.
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