First, you need do nothing to join. If you complete a course of education - any course - at the OU, you are automatically entitled to join. If you graduate, you are automatically added to the membership. If, however, you opt not to be contacted, you are fully entitled to 'join out', as my father once wistfully described his ambition for his relationship with the Inland Revenue, and to have your details amended to avoid all mailings.
So, why be a member? Mainly because there is a wide range of membership benefits. And the range is growing. The OU credit card, which has no annual charge, offers members of the OU community one of the lowest interest rates going. The OU benefits every time you use it - last year to the tune of around pounds 250,000. There are other advantages, courtesy of Beneficial Bank, the card providers, including specially designed loans, and even discounted wine and travel.
Travel, research shows, is dear to the hearts of OU students and graduates. Now Swan Hellenic, pathfinders in academically-related tours, are organising cruises to historic sites in the Mediterranean with specialist lecturers as guides - a boon to travellers who find even the most enthusiastic local taxi driver never quite good enough.
We are nearing the end of negotiations with a company which will provide more member services - specially discounted rates for such perpetual problems as home and car insurance, health insurance, pension and financial advice. All these are being tailored to suit the OU community, designed to benefit both you and the university at the same time.
We are developing an online Career Centre, with lists of jobs available at the OU and elsewhere. These are especially attractive to graduates, but the range is likely to extend. There is also a mentoring service, and some OU stalwarts have already volunteered their assistance for people who might need help or advice, either with study or with employment.The online Refectory provides the opportunity to chat directly or via a message board with people who have similar interests, related to geography or to the faculty, and there is also the opportunity simply to find and contact people who may have similar interests. Please remember, though, that this is a developing, one-month-old, website, and therefore it needs input before anyone can expect to get much out of it. And that means you, the members.
We are investigating Internet service providers - no easy task, this - in an effort to find the most efficient and user-friendly system to recommend to the growing community online . This itself has taken months: ISPs, although operating in an environment of ever-increasing speed, run their organisations at funereal pace. And as for customer relations and so-called helplines... well, we are working on it.
Any day now, we hope to have an online OU bookshop, so that you can order from a two-million-plus list of titles (including a search for out- of-print books) without leaving your desk. This will be a convenient way of book-buying for you and, again, will provide a benefit for the OU development fund - a double benefit if you order books using your OU credit card.
Finally, lest we forget, there is the unique opportunity to buy OPEN EYE in The Independent on the first Thursday of every month for 25p instead of 45p.
It is there for you. New items will be reported here and on the OU alumni community website:
The writer is director of alumni relations at the Open University
If you would like any further information on the Open University or its courses telephone 0870 9000315, or write to:
The Open University
PO Box 625
quoting ref: Eye!