Open Eye: Breaking down barriers

Seeing an OU programme on TV prompted award-winning Basque writer Asun Balzola to sign up for a BA course. She talks to Maria Bengoa about the challenge it presents

Asun Balzola is studying for an OU degree from her home in Madrid. Disabled following a serious accident in her youth, she is a children's author and illustrator who has won several prestigious awards for her work, and is a leading figure in the Basque cultural scene.

"My activities are always determined by my physical limitations. I couldn't go and row a boat, for example," she says.

Among her hobbies, she singles out studying with the Open University.

"I am now into my third year of study for a Bachelor of Arts degree, and it will take me another three years to complete because two years at the Open University are the equivalent of one at a conventional British university".

For the Basque writer and illustrator: "Studying in the Spanish language would not be half as satisfying as my current studies in English. And a further advantage is that my English studies oblige me to adopt an objective view and approach to learning.

"You are encouraged to consider a particular theme from various standpoints. This is very good for training yourself to think methodically and to argue a thesis in the most unrestricted way possible.

"The Open University differs from UNED (the Spanish Distance Education University) in that one does not need an entrance qualification or verifiable minimum standard of previous education before starting a course of study."

Asun loves travelling. She travels extensively in Italy and frequently visits a friend in Cambridge. It was during a stay there that she first saw OU programmes on television, and that the idea of registering for a course of study first occurred to her: "It seemed so well done that I was encouraged to try it for myself," she recalled.

But her visits to Cambridge have some disadvantages: "Every time I go to England I have to stop smoking because of the disapproval implicit in the looks of horror on the faces of the people when I light up!"

She says she is satisfied with her academic progress: "The first year I had poor grades, the second year I achieved average grades and this year so far I am gaining above average ones."

She finds it exciting, studying at this level because she enjoys the challenge. "It is like exercise. I have worked hard and I have already developed muscle. I need to continue. As I cannot physically make a stand, I can demonstrate my commitment and solidarity through my work and studies."

She sketches and does her illustrations during the mornings, and studies during the afternoons. In her Madrid home where she spends most of her time she has two different tables, one for her illustrating and another for her studies.

"You have to organise yourself well because you need to work hard and long. It is necessary to produce and deliver one assignment each month during the eight months of the course and at the end you take a final exam.

"The OU is very considerate to people with disabilities: the textbooks are especially adapted and many other facilities are provided to assist in taking the exam - if necessary you can take the exam in your own home."

The Bachelor of Arts Degree for which Asun is studying includes many varied subjects - "The first year was a course about the Victorian Era in Great Britain; I studied English literature, painting and philosophy. The second year was dedicated to English literature and this year I am studying modern world literature - curiously, I am studying the Spanish poet Lorca in English. I am astonished at the English versions of his poetry!"

The writer has recently published her first book for adults, Txoriburu, an account of her childhood in Bilbao in the 1940s.

Among English authors she identifies herself with the Bronte sisters, who were 'just a little eccentric'. As a girl, Asun was a bad student: "I achieved good marks in the things that interested me, and in the rest, zero. I should have studied then but so what - I have discovered the pleasure of studying late. Who could ask for more?"

Maria Bengoa is a writer with El Correo in Bilbao

The growing number of OU students like Asun in continental western Europe, are profiled in the most detailed survey the University has ever conducted.

More than 4,700 people are registered with the OU in EU countries outside the UK and Ireland, plus Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia and Hungary. (This does not include students with the British Forces overseas.) They study exactly the same courses as students in the UK.

While there is no such thing as a typical European student, the survey suggests they are more cosmopolitan, more geographically mobile and keener on electronic communications than their OU counterparts.

The large majority are fluent in at least two languages, two-thirds are on-line and more than half chose to study with the OU because it offers flexibility across international boundaries.

Sixty-nine different nationalities were recorded in the survey. Just under half are British.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is a small friendly village prim...

Recruitment Genius: Student Support Assistants - Part Time & Full Time

£14600 - £17600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are passionate about sup...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel: