Open Eye: Missions for the new millennium
Tuesday 07 December 1999
For people who love universities 1088 and All That is also a great story. The oldest university in continuous existence is the University of Bologna, founded in 1088. In 1988 it celebrated its 900th anniversary in style by inviting all the world's university heads to Bologna for a week of festivities. With bells pealing from every church we processed in academic dress through the town to the Cathedral Square for a moving ceremony. The heads of the next oldest nineteen universities (Sorbonne, Oxford, Salamanca, etc) came forward, in order of date of foundation, to sign a roll of honour. Then the other universities were invited forward, continent by continent, to sign in their turn.
For anyone who has spent their life trying to uphold academic ideals and nurturing academic communities it was a memorable testimony to the longevity of both.
The earliest universities were founded by the Church, but most of the presidents, rectors and vice-chancellors who came forward from each continent represented secular institutions.
Universities have evolved steadily over the years, essentially reinventing themselves in the nineteenth century with the creation of the civic universities in the UK and the land grant universities in the USA.
The founders of those new universities stressed the practical arts by expanding the traditional range of academic subjects to include engineering, agriculture and home economics. The notion of service to the community was added to the older mission of teaching.
Later in the nineteenth century, inspired by developments in German universities, universities in the English-speaking world gradually gave more prominence to research. Thus developed the triple mission of teaching, research and service that today defines universities - and the promotion criteria of academics.
However, although the mission of universities was complete by the turn of the twentieth century, only a tiny proportion of citizens had access to these seats of higher learning.
The rapid expansion of universities to give access to a broader cross- section of the population began in the USA after the War with the GI Bill that promoted the higher education of returning veterans. Britain started rather later, in the 1960s, but made up for lost time by using three approaches.
Following the Robbins Report in 1963 a number of new universities were established. At the same time the polytechnic sector was ordered and expanded through the creation of the Council for National Academic Awards. In 1969 a Royal Charter was awarded to the brand new Open University. Throughout the world the OU was soon hailed as a radically new university because of its mission, its methods, or both.
People in the old world, accustomed to defining the quality of universities in terms of the exclusiveness of their student intake, found the OU's open entry policy disturbingly radical. Observers in the new world, already comfortable with easy access for adult students, found the OU's use of communications technologies for distance learning excitingly different.
Over the 1970s and 1980s the OU served as an inspiration for the creation of numerous open universities around the world and twelve of them now enrol more than 100,000 students each.
The OU came to be called the major academic innovation of the late twentieth century. What is new today? What will look different when the millennial celebrations of the University of Bologna occur in 2088? Following the innovations in mission and methods of the last 150 years we are now seeing innovations in the corporate status of universities. These include universities run for profit, universities that are branches of business corporations, and consortium universities. It is too early to predict how these new arrivals will affect the evolving academic enterprise.
The United States Open University, which launches its programmes in 2000, will start in this new environment - a context very different from the world of the 1970s into which the OU was born. We intend that the USOU will combine enduring academic values with the missions and methods appropriate for a new millennium.
I hope that it too will make its mark as an important innovation in the evolution of universities.
Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...