Open Eye: Lib Dem's visitor finds 'excitement for OU learning'

Phil Willis MP, the Liberal Democrat voice on Higher Education, visited the Open University in Milton Keynes to discuss key aspects of national higher education policy and view recent developments.

Discussions with Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel and some of his senior colleagues at the OU focused on the key issues of improving access and affordability of university study and ways of ensuring that quality is maintained.

Widely regarded as a world pioneer in improving access to higher education, more than two million people have studied OU courses since it accepted its first students in 1971.

Many of these would have been denied access to conventional university courses - because they did not have A-levels.

The OU also provides the flexibility to fit study around work and personal commitments, which not only makes its courses more accessible, but also makes them more affordable.

The OU model offers proof that higher education can be excellent without being exclusive.

National independent assessments rank the OU 11th out of 98 UK universities for teaching quality.

During his visit, Mr Willis was shown examples of how the university is integrating new communications technologies, such as the Internet, into its courses.

Researchers at the University's Knowledge Media Institute also outlined some of the work they are doing to develop and roll out new applications of these technologies across all levels of education.

"The OU has a unique role to play in the development of higher education in the UK," Mr Willis said.

"It has been fascinating to see how its systems and processes support huge numbers of learners - and yet all work together to generate an excitement for learning and to make sure that the student is always at the centre."

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