On April 23, The Open University will be celebrating its 40th anniversary, marking a significant milestone for the UK’s first university dedicated to open and distance learning.
The Open University is now the UK’s largest university, teaching almost 200,000 students each year, and since its establishment in 1969 it has helped over 2 million students further career development or fulfil life long ambitions of learning.
The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brenda Gourley, says: “The Open University has turned an educational system devised in another age into a tool of the knowledge society, and used open and distance education to make the world a better place: abandoning entry criteria and using technology has enabled us to provide education to millions of people who might otherwise be condemned to poverty and hardship. This is an extraordinary record of which the UK should be proud. It has also been achieved while becoming a first-rate university in any terms, standing proudly among its more traditional peers and partners.
“The Open University has not only put social justice at the very heart of what it seeks to do – it is the very stuff of its mission. It has played a real part in shaping the future society in Britain and elsewhere. It has in the process helped many people to realise their dreams.”
Today The Open University continues to lead the way in learning technology. In 2008 The Open University became the first university to offer free downloadable course material via iTunesU and today over 50,000 OU tracks are downloaded from iTunesU each week.
23 April 1969 saw the birth of The Open University but its intellectual roots go back much further. In 1926 the educationalist and historian JC Stobart wrote a memo on a ‘wireless university’, while working for the BBC. By the early sixties many different proposals were being debated such as a 'teleuniversity', which would combine broadcast lectures with correspondence texts and visits to conventional universities – a genuinely 'multi-media' concept.
In1963 Harold Wilson stated in a speech in Glasgow: “Today I want to outline new proposals on which we are working, a dynamic programme providing facilities for home study to university and higher standards.” When Labour won the election in 1964, Harold Wilson appointed Jennie Lee and asked her to take on the ‘University of the Air’ project, moving her to the Department of Education and Science.
This project met with severe hostility and scepticism, but thousands rushed to register. Forty years on, The Open University is consistently in the top three of the National Students Survey of Student Satisfaction, had 18 of 25 subjects classed as excellent in the last UK Quality Assurance Agency subject review, and in the recent UK universities Research Assessment Exercise rose 23 places in the UK research league table, with 14% of its research described as ‘world leading’ and more than 50% described as ‘internationally excellent’. No scepticism now and no hostility either!
The Open University continuing to lead the education revolution
The Open University promoting opportunity and social justice
The Open University’s Global reach
The Open University’s value to the UK economy