03 Jan 2011

Open University marks 40th anniversary of first broadcast on the BBC

An early Open University lecture being filmed for broadcast

An early Open University lecture being filmed for broadcast

Today (3 January) is the 40th anniversary of the first Open University (OU) broadcast on the BBC.

Since that first broadcast, over 7,000 television and 4,000 radio programmes have been produced as part of The Open University and BBC partnership, with over 300 million viewers tuning in to OU/BBC in 2009/2010 alone.

Broadcasts began with late night lectures, transmitted when students would be available to watch them, to provide visual teaching to students enrolled with the new distance-learning Open University. Open University Social Scientist, Professor Michael Drake, took part in the early pioneering recordings and recalled the challenges: “Each programme took one day. We rehearsed once then recorded it with no stopping because of errors.”

Late night lectures moved to the early hours when video recorders were widely in use and, since the 1990s, have evolved into prime-time programming designed to remain educational but engage mainstream viewers and take education to the masses.

The Open University and the BBC have produced award-winning peak-time television and radio programmes such as Coast, Bang Goes the Theory, Rough Science, Seven Ages of Britain, Child of our Time, Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?, James May’s Big Ideas and Olympic Dreams.

Today, OU academics are mostly found behind the scenes providing expert advice and guidance on the topics being featured, with household names such as Richard Wilson, James May, Jimmy Doherty, Kate Humble, Neil Oliver, Theo Paphitis and Evan Davis in front of the camera or microphone.

Dr Sally Crompton, Head of The University’s Open Broadcasting Unit, said: “The Open University’s partnership with the BBC provides a unique way to combine academic expertise and high quality production. TV, Radio and online content brings education to millions of people and, while it has evolved from late night programmes to mainstream television, it is still central to what the OU does, making learning accessible.

“Through our partnership with the BBC, we stimulate people’s curiosity, open up access to new learning opportunities, transfer knowledge across a wide range of areas and we look forward to working together in the future’

The OU and BBC’s joint programming has consistently been recognised with industry awards, and this year alone has picked up ‘best documentary’ at the Mind media awards for the portrayal of mental health in its documentary, Sectioned; a Digital Emmy for Virtual Revolution; and four Learning on Screen awards for programmes including Saving Britain’s Past.

The reach of OU/BBC programmes extends beyond television viewers and students, with many organisations using programmes as training materials for staff. Examples include Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?, Sectioned and Mental: A History of the Madhouse.

The Open University continues to use innovative methods to deliver learning, including online and social media to make course materials and other learning resources available online for viewers and members of the public to take their interests further. The Open University’s iTunes U channel has had over 28m download since it was set up two years ago and its OpenLearn website providing free course materials to the public has had over 11m visitors.

To see a timeline of OU/BBC programmes across the 40 years, go to:

Notes to Editors
The Open University (OU) is the largest higher education institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.6 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including 20,000 overseas, learning in their own time using course materials, online activities and content, web-based forums and tutorials and through tutor groups and residential schools.

The OU has been highly rated for teaching quality, and has been at the top of student satisfaction rankings in the National Student Survey since it was introduced in 2005. 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and three out of four FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

The OU supports a vibrant research portfolio and in the UK's latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008), the University climbed 23 places to 43rd, securing a place in the UK's top 50 higher education institutions.

Regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution, the OU is a world leader in developing technology to increase access to education on a global scale. Its vast ‘open content portfolio’ includes free study units on OpenLearn, which has had 11 million unique visitors, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 28.5 million downloads. The OU has a 40 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Life, Coast, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

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