The OU and the BBC have signed a new partnership agreement which gives the University greater flexibility in its choice of producers for programmes as it enters the age of digital broadcasting. Although BBC Production at Milton Keynes will remain the main supplier ofprogrammes, the new joint Commissioning Unit set up under the agreement will also work with the independent sector for the first time. The Unit expects to provide around 800 hours a year of broadcast material for BBC 2, as well as co-commissioning programmes for BBC Learning Zone, Radios 3 and 4, and the BBC's new digital channels. Joint projects already agreed upon include a major co-commission for the BBC Education Millennium History Project and a new production of Hamlet forRadio 3.

Jane Drabble, Director of Education for the BBC, said: "The launch of our new Digital Learning Channel next year will offer even more scope for joint ventures as we devote additional resources to support people learning at home. We anticipate a growing demand from adult viewers who are studying to gain extra qualifications, to brush up on work skills or, increasingly, learning for pleasure." For the OU, Ann Floyd, Pro Vice- Chancellor for Curriculum and Awards, said the OU will maintain and strengthen its link with the BBC, and take full advantage of the wide range of independent production facilities now available. "This will be particularly important as we develop our digital and on-line services," she said.

The BBC and the OU have worked in partnership since the OU was created.This new agreement is the fourth in the OU's history. It was signed in December at Broadcasting House in London by Sir John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, and OU Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel.