Open Eye: Welcome to `Open Eye'

In this first issue, the vice-chancellor, Professor John Daniel, spells out its aims, and its links with `The Independent'
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The Independent Online
Welcome to the first issue of OPEN EYE, the magazine of the Open University alumni community. You are holding a publication unique in many ways. It is, I think, the only monthly magazine for graduates anywhere in Europe. It surely has the biggest circulation (more than 400,000 copies this issue). It is the first time that a national, quality daily newspaper has made an arrangement with an outside organisation (in this case, the OU) to produce a regular supplement for it. It is also the only comprehensive guide to listings for the Open University's programmes broadcast within the BBC's Learning Zone. (I am also aware that superlatives are a dangerous game in journalism, and the claim to be the first in anything is calculated to bring a challenge out of the woodwork: I'll be delighted to hear of any challengers to our claims for uniqueness.)

Communications are vital in the age in which we live, and never before has information been so accessible. The Internet now carries more information than is contained in all the world's libraries, but that has not stopped the production of the printed word. New books, magazines and newspaper supplements appear on newsagents' shelves every week. As they say, if the computer was going to replace print, Bill Gates would not have written a book.

So as well as working on the creation of this new publication, the alumni relations department has been building a website for our graduates and customers. In many ways it is destined to reflect, online, this publication. But even in a technically advanced community such as ours, not everyone is wired - we believe that about 75 per cent of our students and graduates have access to PCs, and of that number only about a quarter operate with modems. So, in addition to the need for information on a screen, there is still a definite need for a medium you can hold, perhaps to read on a train or, if you travel via Milton Keynes, more likely while waiting for one.

The major problem with the printed word today, though, is not its production - modern printing techniques mean quality magazines can be created for relatively little cost - but distribution. This is likely to be the biggest proportion of a publication's costs and one further reason why the association with The Independent is so valuable. The OU has the information; The Independent has the printing and publishing capacity, and the talent. It also has the most efficient retail delivery system in the known world - newspaper distribution.

Yet this partnership between education and journalism is more than a happy accident. It is almost inevitable. The founders of this newspaper - long before New Labour was even a twinkle in the eye - put education at the top of their list of ambitions. Its Education+ supplement, and, more recently its FastTrack section for aspirational graduates, have served as lessons to longer-established journals, proving the need for a service to the world of higher education, providers and customers alike. With its refreshed outlook and newly-regained independence, The Independent provides a happy and comfortable alliance, recognising the need for the OU to communicate, for itself to access a new potential readership, and the popular demand for a vehicle to publish the university's listings.

Listings are important to us. There is no point in producing quality TV programmes if no-one is aware they are being broadcast. They were always intended for an audience wider than the OU student community, and six days a week around 1 million viewers not studying OU courses dip in to our programmes in the Learning Zone and, one must hope, add to their knowledge. We have no doubt that many more would do this - provided they were able to find out what was available to watch. Prominent among those likely to switch on (or programme their videos) must be the students and graduates who already appreciate the value of the content on the OU schedules, in addition to those that cover their own course work. This is partly the motivation behind this publication and its supporting website.

The Independent has volunteered its expertise in partnership with us. It is difficult to imagine a more fitting union. More than any other in the world, the OU student is identifiable as fiercely independent, relying solely on his or her own ability to organise a mix between real life and education. Announcing its launch, The Independent proclaimed: "It is. Are you?" And readers welcomed it, joining in the fun wearing badges both confirming and challenging: "I am. Are you?"

Now, the OU community can testify in the same vein about The Independent: "It is. We are." Other words that spring to mind are "free-spirited", "liberal", "informed", "intelligent", "educated". It is, as they say in the trade, a perfect fit.