31 Jan 2013

Open University to inspire young minds into research

The Open University (OU) has announced today that it is to receive £145,000 from Research Councils UK from its £3.5m fund for UK schools, universities, and businesses aimed at raising young people’s interest in contemporary research.

The funding will be used by the OU to launch the Engaging Opportunities project. Over three years, the initiative will see the University partner with the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance to provide 3,800 students in the Milton Keynes area with the opportunity to engage with research and researchers from a wide variety of disciplines.

Dr Richard Holliman, Open University Champion for Public Engagement with Research and Principal Investigator on the project, said: “Through the work of the Engaging Opportunities project we want to raise awareness among young people in Milton Keynes of the full range of academic research that is conducted at The Open University. We will help young people to develop skills and competencies that empower lifelong learning and citizenship. For those considering study beyond Key Stages 4 and 5 we want to inspire young people to consider a range of careers in research and raise ambition to succeed in these ends.”

Andy Squires, Director of Denbigh Teaching School said, “We are delighted to be involved in the Engaging Opportunities project. The exciting opportunities offered through this project will enable us to take engagement with researchers to the next level. This project could not have come at a better time for Milton Keynes, the Denbigh Teaching School Alliance and the young people in Milton Keynes. Through the work of this project we will be in a position to have a wider impact on students’ aspirations and life chances.”

The Engaging Opportunities project will draw on research expertise from across the OU to develop, deliver and evaluate interactive lectures, dialogues, inquiry-based activities and other creative projects. The activities will help students engage with developments and debates surrounding contemporary research.

The Engaging Opportunities project is supported and funded through the RCUK’s new national School-University Partnerships Initiative (SUPI), which will run over the course of three years. SUPI will use its £3.5m fund to back a total of 12 projects that are all geared to motivate academic interest in young people from a range of backgrounds.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, commented:

“Maintaining a good supply of scientists and researchers is vital to our economy and society, but to do this we need to draw talent from as wide a pool as possible. That is why the School-University Partnerships Initiative is so important. It will help to encourage young people from all backgrounds to pursue a career in research by connecting them with the UK's world class academic community.”

Other academics involved in the Engaging Opportunities project include: Eileen Scanlon, Regius Professor of Open Education at the Institute of Educational Technology, Kris Stutchbury of the Faculty of Education and Language Studies, and Elizabeth Whitelegg, of the Faculty of Science. The project will be managed by Diane Ford and coordinated from eSTEeM, a Research Centre within the Faculty of Science.

The Engaging Opportunities project complements the work already underway at the Open University as part of RCUK’s Catalyst for Public Engagement Initiative. This existing project, ‘An open research university’, will embed public engagement with research within The Open University’s strategic planning for research and the operational practices of researchers at all levels.


About The Open University
The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning. Since it began in 1969, the OU has taught more than 1.8 million students and has more than 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.

The OU came top for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey this year, and has been in the top three universities every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2011/12 it had a 93 per cent satisfaction rating. Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment, and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.

In the UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise (RAE 2008) the Open University was ranked in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed in the RAE as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

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 more than 23 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded over 56 million downloads. The OU has a 41 year partnership with the BBC which has moved from late-night lectures in the 1970s to prime-time programmes such as Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory, James May’s Big Ideas and The Money Programme.

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