Open Eye: A will's the way to open doors

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The Independent Online
The last week of March will be Make a Will Week. During that time there will be plenty of information in the press about the importance of having a valid will for your friends and family - and the many ways you can support causes you believe in with a legacy.

As you'll discover, making or updating your will is a relatively simple and inexpensive process. Yet it can make an enormous difference to the people you care about, and the charities and institutions - such as the OU - that you might want to remember.

Leaving a legacy to the Open University is a unique and wonderful way to help people transform their lives - as OU graduate Patricia Campbell discovered.

Patricia's relationship with the University began way back in 1974, when she was a network assistant at the BBC, helping to get OU programmes on the air. She liked what she saw and felt drawn to the challenge of taking an OU degree herself. She also had a hankering to join the BBC's News and Current Affairs department, and she knew a good, relevant, degree would help her get there.

In 1986, she graduated from the OU with a BA in Arts and Social Sciences, which turned out to be the perfect passport to the job she wanted.

"Doing my OU degree definitely made a huge difference to my career. It gave me greater understanding and insight, as well as the confidence to deal with smart, highly educated people," she says.

"It was also an accomplishment in itself. At the time, the job I had was very demanding and my sister was also seriously ill. The OU was perfect for me because it was so flexible. I could do my studying at two o'clock in the morning if I had to!"

Patricia was so impressed by her experience of the OU she felt she wanted to give something back. She volunteered to do some telephone fundraising and as a result became more aware of the value of donations and legacies.

"I hadn't ever thought about leaving a legacy before, but the more I learned about it, the better an idea it seemed. "I want other people to enjoy all the benefits OU study brings - I am very proud of my degree, and believe the OU is one of the best Universities in the world."

Like all universities in the UK, the OU receives grants from the Government. But, as the biggest, it has to work hard to generate extra sources to help achieve goals which cannot be delivered through public funds alone. Legacies are a highly-valued part of this "extra" income from donations, entrepreneurial activity, and affinity marketing.

As Dr Alison Binns of the University's Development Office explains: "Legacies help the University to continue its mission of being open as to people, to places, to ideas and methods. They allow us to invest in new developments in teaching and research, and new developments which have real and visible impact not only on OU people but also in the world well beyond the University.

"The OU is moving forward all the time, to meet the changing needs of new generations of students, by developing new courses, in applying new technologies to teaching and learning, and in making these technologies ever more accessible.

"Then there are the thousands of OU students on low incomes, or with disabilities, who rely on OU grants for the chance to study for a degree.

"At present there are around 6,000 students at the OU who have a disability - that's more than at any other University in the world. Without that financial assistance or help with specialist equipment, most would never be able to graduate."

It is this last aspect of legacy-giving that captured Patricia Campbell's interest and persuaded her to include the OU in her will.

"While I was studying, I made a very good friend who was blind. By the time he finished his OU degree, he was able to change his job from shorthand- typist to become an economics lecturer. It was amazing to see how much his life was changed - even more than mine had been.

"It really struck me how much an OU qualification can inspire greater self-confidence, as well as helping people achieve their dreams. This is particularly important for those who have a disability. And it can be so much harder for them, financially as well as practically. My friend needed a talking computer, and that cost a fortune.

"The wonderful thing is there is so much new technology around now to help people overcome their disabilities and learn. The problem is that it can just be too expensive. I realised that by leaving a legacy to be invested in technology for the disabled, I could really do something worthwhile.

"There's nothing like an education for opening the mind. It can completely change your life. I can't imagine a better gift than that, to leave another human being."

For more information about leaving a legacy to the OU, please contact Dr Alison Binns on 01908 653887.

A legacy which made a real difference

One graduate whose legacy really made a difference to the OU was James Pavis. He had enjoyed his OU courses in social sciences, particularly those involving sociologyand anthropology, so much that he left the OU the money to promote those studies.

His bequest resulted in the Pavis Centre for Social and Cultural Research, formally launched in 1994 with an inaugural lecture by Michael Ignatieff. The Centre will support the new National Everyday Culture Programme. This is a research network of sociology associate lecturers capable of undertaking national enquiries into varied social aspects of everyday cultural life- and the existing Open Studies in Family and Community History. It will also promote the new MA Programme in Cultural and Media Studies and recruit research students. James Pavis's legacy also supports an annual prize to the best student on each of three undergraduate sociology courses, and pays the expenses of visiting fellows and speakers and other ongoing activities.