04 Feb 2009

The OU celebrates world leading research into social work, social policy and administration

International recognition for its research into childhood and youth; parenthood and reproduction; living with a disability; and ageing and later life has propelled The Open University into the top third of UK and Irish universities in the areas of social work and social policy and administration in the recent UK-wide 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.
Sixty percent of The Open University’s submission under the Social Work, Social Policy and Administration category was assessed as world leading or internationally excellent. It now sits joint 19th out of 68 submissions, alongside Queen’s Belfast, Durham, Warwick and Ulster in the Times Higher RAE 2008 rankings.
Childhood and youth
The Open University’s expertise in this area has been recognised by the Department of Health (DoH), Department for Education & Skills (DfES), Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the Scottish Government.
Professor Jane Aldgate’s overview of the Children Act 1989 research initiative provided evidence for the Assessment Framework while her study on family centres informed the new Children’s Services Agenda.
Wendy Rose has worked with the DoH and, subsequently, the DfES to develop the Assessment Framework and the Integrated Children’s System. She was invited to undertake the second national biennial study of serious case reviews of child deaths and serious injuries, which fed into the new DCSF policy on safeguarding children. The DfES went on to commission both Rose and Aldgate to guide and inform the Government’s building of a Workforce Development Programme.
Professor Aldgate’s groundbreaking evidence for the Scottish Executive’s review of Looked after Children resulted in a Ministerial announcement of grants for the kinship carers of looked after children. She received an OBE for her research and advisory input to children’s policy in England and Scotland in June 2007.
Parenthood and reproduction
The Open University has been recognised for innovatively linking three traditionally separate strands of research expertise: birth and reproductive health, parenting, and death and loss. The OU Birth and Death Research Group, has developed collaborative projects dealing with a range of valuable topics.
Living with disability
The Social History of Learning Disability Research Group includes a core membership of OU academics, as well as associates across Europe, North America and Australia. It undertakes life history research, including the history of learning disability and the study of advocacy including self-advocacy. Acknowledgment of the methodological expertise of this research group resulted in an ESRC supported seminar series Service User Agendas in Research: Emancipatory and Inclusive Paradigms (2007).
The impact of this work is seen in part in Professor Dorothy Atkinson’s invited participation in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability discussing the 2001 white paper Valuing People.
Ageing and later life
The Open University’s research has also influenced government policy and practice concerning later life.
The work of Dr Holland, Dr Jeanne Katz and Professor Peace launched by the Minister of Culture within Rowntree’s public places programme (April 2007) informs the work of Department of Communities and Local Government regarding national policy for sustainable communities, and has led to consultation on intergenerational use of street furniture and public conveniences.
In 2007, influential research by members of the Faculty’s Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies in partnership with Help the Aged unpacked the meaning of age discrimination for older people across the UK and was disseminated to great effect through a House of Commons event.
Sheila Peace, Associate Dean (Research) comments: “I am delighted that the skills and expertise of staff through their research into the challenges across the life course are reflected in this RAE result. This strong multidimensional research base underpins our curriculum which reaches more than 18 000 students”.

Editor’s Notes
1. The Open University, the only truly national higher education institution in the UK, provides teaching support to over 200,000 students through its network of nation and regional centres. The research activities of its academic staff, based at its Walton Hall campus, take place around the world.
2. Details of the Research Assessment Exercise, including The Open University’s results are available at:
3. The Times Higher RAE 2008 ‘Table of Excellence’ is at:
4. The Open University’s Research Highlights 2008 brochure can be downloaded from:
5. The University’s freely accessible repository of over 8,300 research publications, Open Research Online (, is the seventh largest university repository in the UK.
6. More than 1,100 postgraduate students are registered for research degrees with the Open University.
7. The Open University’s iTunes U site (, launched in June 2008, reached 2.5 million downloads this month from over 250,000 users across the globe. The site has included research content since October 2008.

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