Open Eye: Keeping true to the vision of the OU

Recently I was privileged to give the Jean Posthuma memorial lecture. Jean Posthuma was a well-known figure in the OU community. I first met her when I arrived at the OU in 1990 at a post-exams partyheld in London before Christmas.

Soon after Christmas I attended a reception hosted by the Association of Open University Graduates. Jean Posthuma's organising ability shone through the two events - and many of the same people were at both.

I realised then that the categories of student and graduate are more permeable at the OU than elsewhere. Numbers of OU graduates continue as students, whether for postgraduate programmes, further undergraduate degrees, or individual courses.

These lifelong learners are an asset to the OU community. Many individuals with impressive longevity as students give time generously to OU affairs and its governance benefits greatly from their knowledge and experience.

Such people feel a deep sense of ownership of "their" University.

Whereas the alumni of traditional universities can have a rather `soft focus' image of their alma mater as they experienced it years ago, these OU alumni combine profound identification with the University's core values with an up-to-date knowledge of its current activities.

They are therefore well placed to judge whether the University has remained true to the vision of its founders. My memorial lecture was a contribution to the dialogue on this question.

What motivated those who created the Open University? Harold Wilson had two aims.

First, he wanted to increase access to universities beyond the small proportion of the population who had this opportunity in the 1960s. Second, he believed that the new technology of television was far too powerful to be left to the entertainers. It should be used to extend education and, in particular, to involve the public in the intellectual discourse of universities.

Wilson asked Jennie Lee, his Minister for the Arts, to make the OU a reality. She was determined that the new University be as good or better than the existing institutions. She therefore insisted on an independent body, with its own Royal Charter, rather than the consortium which some of her government colleagues might have favoured.

Finally, Margaret Thatcher, who secured the future of the infant OU in 1970 when some members of the new government would have abolished it, saw in its new methods a chance to reduce costs and hasten the expansion of higher education generally.

These aims were expressed eloquently in the brilliant short speech that Lord Crowther, our first Chancellor, made to the OU's inaugural ceremony in 1969. By coincidence that event took place in the week that the Apollo astronauts returned from the first landing on the moon. It was a time when everything seemed possible. Lord Crowther articulated for the University a simple but ambitious vision: to be open as to people, open as to places, open as to methods and open as to ideas.

Nearly 30 years on we can look back with pride on the OU's achievements. In striving to be open to people we have not only reached more than two million of them; we have also created a university where the profile of the student body is more similar to that of the population at large than elsewhere in higher education.

For many years the impact of the OU's open admissions policy was marred by long waiting lists but that impediment has now gone.

The insidious link between quality of education and exclusiveness of access has been broken.

In the early days of the OU, being open to places meant having to serve students from Shetland to the Scillies. Today it also includes some 30,000 students outside the UK; in the October 1998 session students wrote exams in nearly 100 countries.

By being open to methods the University has integrated various new technologies into its teaching. Our longstanding commitment to broadcasting in partnership with the BBC is now entering a new and exciting phase.

In 1999 the 50,000 OU students on-line will be among the world's largest and most interactive cyber-communities. Openness to ideas means more than merely a commitment to research.

By developing courses in teams and involving thousands of other academics across the world as tutors the OU creates an intensity of intellectual discourse rarely matched in the more individualistic approach found elsewhere in higher education.

Our new sister institution, the OU of the United States, adopted these "four opens" for its own mission and added two more. It also aims to be open as to time and open to the world.

Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam