08 Mar 2013

Higher Education policy and funding must reflect the breadth and diversity of the nation, says The Open University

The Open University (OU) has welcomed an interim report to ministers on the National Strategy for Access and Student Success but highlights the urgent need to adequately support mature and part-time learners.

The report, published yesterday (Thursday 7 March) by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), is the latest stage in the Government’s consideration of future investment in widening participation in England.

The OU - a leader in widening participation in HE - applauds recommendations for greater outreach and communication with more disadvantaged groups. However, the institution argues that more needs to be done to reflect the fact that a third of all undergraduate students in the UK study on a part-time basis and most of these are adults rather than school leavers.

The OU, which has almost 250,000 students and has an “open to all” policy, says that though progress has been made the common perception of a modern student still needs to be broadened.

Director of Government and External Affairs at the OU, Rajay Naik, said:

“We warmly welcome the focus on ensuring that investment in widening participation makes the best possible impact. It is absolutely correct that we must provide support for young people to enter higher education and reach their potential. However, of equal importance is the need to help individuals re-skill for new industries, up-skill to gain new roles, or gain qualifications to secure employment. Therefore we must ensure that we also widen participation amongst mature and part-time learners.

“The introduction of student loans in England for the third of students who study part-time was monumental but we must ensure those learners get the support they require to make informed choices.

“We must collectively ensure that any reforms enable all people - regardless of their age, method of study or background - to have the opportunity to transform their lives through the power of learning."

The report to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills comes ahead of a final report of recommendations to Ministers in Autumn 2013. Some 20% of the OU’s newest undergraduates come from the 25% most disadvantaged communities in the country and 37% of our students have one A-level or less when they join the university.


For more information or to access an Open University spokesperson contact Christine Drabwell on
T: 01908 858 673 M: 07990 827 027 E:

Notes to Editors

About The Open University and Widening Participation

• 37% of OU students have one A-level or less
• 7% of our students declare a disability
• 12% of students come from black and minority ethnic backgrounds
• 18,000 students have accessed higher education through our targeted access, taster and Openings programmes
• The OU invested over £4 million to communicate the new loans system to mature and poorer prospective students
• 71% of OU undergrads have no previous HE qualifications
• In the past five years, OU part-time enrolments for students aged 25 and over increased by more than 17%, compared to a 23% decrease at other institutions

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 almost 250,000 current students, including over 15,000 overseas.
The OU was rated the top university for student satisfaction in last year’s National Student Survey, and has been in the top three universities every year since the survey began in 2005. In 2010/11 it had a 93% 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 26.7 million visits, and materials on iTunes U, which has recorded more than 60 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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