Brenda Gourley: It is fundamental to our mission as a university that we reduce inequalities in education

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The Independent Online

Globalisation means different things to different people. Its effects are varying in their reach and importance.

Globalisation means different things to different people. Its effects are varying in their reach and importance. We do know however that big business operates across boundaries and is affected by global practice in ways unimaginable even 20 years ago. Who would have imagined the collapse of Enron having such large repercussions? Or an incident in one of the hundreds of offices of Arthur Andersen leading to such drastic consequences?

It follows that business schools have to not only teach and research in a global context - they also have to demonstrate that they have credentials that stand up in the global marketplace. This is particularly important in a world where competition comes not only from the traditional schools but also from the realms of borderless education where literally hundreds of MBAs are offered over the internet.

Not enough people know that The Open University has one of the largest (if not the largest) business schools in the world - and certainly the largest in Europe. At present it has 25,000 students and, since its inception in 1983, has catered to the needs of over 150,000 people. Twenty-five per cent of MBAs in the UK come from The Open University - an impressive number by any standard. Together with our international partners, we are able to offer business courses in 43 countries.

Importantly, the OU Business School is fully accredited (with only nine other institutions in this country, out of the hundreds who offer MBAs) by the leading accrediting bodies in the UK, Europe and the US. Interestingly, it is the only exclusively distance learning school to be awarded the AACSB International Accreditation.

The move towards part-time learning is becoming more and more pronounced as residential university education becomes more expensive and as increasing numbers of people seek to find ways to earn while they learn. This is especially so in business studies (such as the MBA) as people who are seeking to further their careers need to expand their knowledge without having to take time out of their jobs. The Open University's unique methods of supported open learning have proven extremely successful in fulfilling this need, both at home and abroad, across a wide range of different kinds of organisations, both in the public and private sector.

We have proven particularly successful in attracting groups normally under-represented in business education. It is fundamental to our mission as a university that we aim to reduce inequalities in education and in the last 20 years we have demonstrated we can do this in business education in the same way we have done elsewhere. The AACSB breakthrough (and the other accreditations) is a signal to other non-conventional providers that it is possible to reach the highest standards while looking after inequality issues at the same time.

Brenda Gourley is the Vice-Chancellor of The Open University

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