Open Eye Letter: Founding fathers

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The Independent Online
My attention has been drawn to your article on the founding fathers of OU (Open Eye, February), with remarks on University Correspondence College. As Arts Director of UCC during the last 16 years of its existence, I should like to correct some inaccuracies.

The "elderly polymath who set and marked papers in every subject" is a figment of the imagination. The Vice-Principal was elderly, and perhaps both he and I could be described as polymaths, since we had some knowledge of subjects outside our own disciplines. However, the Vice-Principal was concerned with the administrative side and neither set nor marked any papers.

As Arts Director I had the task of monitoring courses in all Arts subjects, but did not write courses or mark papers except in my own subjects. The writing of courses and marking of papers in other subjects was entrusted to a number of highly qualified tutors. The estimate of "a handful of tutors and some 500 students" is ludicrously wide of the mark.

William Briggs, the original founder of UCC, was concerned above all with education, and the College was a non-profit-making concern. He was, however, a shrewd businessman, and during his lifetime the College succeeded in paying its way. The main reason for the eventual financial collapse of the College, apart from the fact that admittedly many of our ways were old-fashioned, was that none of the administrative staff had the slightest understanding of business efficiency. (I admit that I haven't but I was not appointed for that purpose).

The staff appointed to facilitate the merger of UCC with the National Extension College were primarily businessmen, and consequently I was not altogether sorry when they shed the old senior staff, including myself, since I was not happy with their priorities.

The idea of combining broadcasting with correspondence tuition is an excellent one, and I am aware that UCC was behind the times in many ways, but the fact remains that many students have reason to be grateful to UCC, and its faults should not be exaggerated, nor must it be forgotten that UCC was the parent of Wolsey Hall, Oxford, which now modernised is doing excellent work.

Philip Hall

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