Why Open University Matters

ou graduationIn 2004 I wanted nothing more than to stay at university and continue studying for a Masters degree. But it wasn’t to be. There wasn’t any clear way I could pay for it, I didn’t really understand how to apply for one, or what difference it would make to my future. So I got a job instead.

In the first few months at that job, during slow days on my computer, I would look at Masters degrees and continue dreaming. Having studied some of my A-Levels through night school I wasn’t averse to the idea of continuing education in the evenings and so it was that I came across the Open University. Over the next six years I would not only study for an MA in Social Science, but I would also take the first year undergraduate engineering course and the health & social care one.

Even when my career plans changed, and I became a teacher, I carried on with OU. Completing a dissertation during the first term of teaching is a new level of hell, but it was absolutely worth it. And it would be those undergraduate courses that later enabled me to take over an ailing Year 13 Health & Social Care course and get them on the right path.

It was therefore genuine anger I vented last month when, via Twitter, I was pointed to an article by Michael Gove in which he compared his education reforms to those that had helped “Educating Rita” (a play about a woman taking an OU degree). Not only do I not think Gove’s reforms come close to the benefits of the OU, I’m also disgusted by what has happened to the institution under his government’s watch.

This is why my Guardian Column this month is a love letter to the OU and a slap in the face to those working to undermine it. The OU undeniably changed my life. Without it I would not have kept studying, and I would not now be a Fulbright Scholar. I hope therefore you can forgive the article’s furious tone, but we will be less of a nation if we do not keep OU degrees available for the many and not just the few.



Categories: UK Education Policy

5 replies

  1. Well Said! Have a brother with a first and MA all done whilst working. With out the OU and the brilliance of it’s package of opportunities this would never have happened.

  2. Reblogged this on Jeez, not you again! and commented:
    I have not only taught for the OU and been inspired by the dedication of the students, but have also studied while working and raising five children: 3 x Masters degrees, one BA (Hons). In full agreement with this and totally anti Gove’s attempts to close off the OU to the very people it was meant to serve.

  3. This is excellent and cuts right through the waffling metaphor of Michael Gove (in this particular instance) to reveal the realities of getting access to education. Why do politicians, of whatever ilk, often seem, by the laws of unintended consequence, to make it harder for people to gain access to a decent education. Education is a lifelong process and once gained can never be taken away – to raise the financial bar to entry is to impoverish our own futures and those of future generations.

  4. ‘Educating Rita’ was an amusing but unrealistic film. In decades of teaching for the OU I only once had a one to one tutorial with a student. (She used a wheelchair and the OU paid for a home visit as well as a one to one trip to the National Gallery). It was a shock to read about the high cost of OU degrees. In my day the free was £500 and if the student were a teacher (with a teacher trianing qualification) the LA would cover the fees.If Gove really believed in re-education then he would give subsidies to OU students.

  5. I don’t think that your Guardian article does have a furious tone; it’s a passionate argument in defence of an amazing institution.

    I’ve been studying for a MEd with the OU for the last three years I’d recommend it to anyone – but it is expensive. (My fees were around £4500 in total.) Some of the modules I studied did involve face-to-face tutorials, but I think we were the last groups to get these before everything moved online.

    When the big increases in fees for undergraduate courses were announced, my OU tutor suggested that the Open University should consider a name change to the Slightly Ajar University. Sadly, that’s probably a better description of it now that the fees are at a level that will deter many potential students.

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