College of the air in full flight: The Open University, which is 25 years old this month, has given 2 million people the chance to advance by degrees

IT WAS the spring of 1969. The Beatles were at No 1 in the charts with 'Get Back' and Concorde had just made its maiden flight. In Milton Keynes, staff at the fledgling Open University were celebrating the granting of their Royal Charter.

Twenty-five years on, the OU still has much to rejoice about. The project was dismissed as 'blithering nonsense' in 1968 by Iain Macleod, John Major's political hero, and a Times leader questioned whether there would be a demand for its services. Harold Wilson's idea of a 'university of the air' might never have got off the ground had it not been for his personal enthusiasm.

As they commemorate their anniversary this month, the Milton Keynes academics can observe with satisfaction that, as well as representing by far the biggest university in the country, they have pioneered a teaching style which is likely to become increasingly popular.

Already the modular approach, which allows students to build up credits at their own pace, has been adopted by many universities, and advances in technology will mean far more people studying at home. Since the first OU degree courses were launched in 1971, offering distance learning backed by television and radio broadcasts, at least 2 million people have studied with it - more than 200,000 each year. Even in its first year the university had 40,000 applicants for 24,000 places, and was several times the size of most other universities. Now it is firmly lodged in the national psyche.

Perhaps its greatest value has been to people whose busy lives do not readily accommodate the routine of conventional study. Actors have worked on assignments backstage or between rehearsals; sportspeople in the changing rooms. One British serviceman sat his OU exams while on a term of duty in the Falklands during the 1982 war, and another took his on a Polaris submarine.

Actors and actresses who have studied with the university include Susan Tully from EastEnders, Connie Booth, who was in Fawlty Towers, and Kika Mirylees, whose TV productions include The Darling Buds of May.

The football manager and coach Dave Sexton began studying with the OU in 1984, and graduated with a BA in humanities in 1990. He left school at 16 and regretted not continuing his education. He had always been a prolific reader, he said, and during that period he was working with the England squad and had most mornings free for study. He took his books to 37 different countries. 'I had an interest in philosophy, and I suppose if you are a football manager it helps to be a philosopher. The course helped me to manage my time and exercise my mind.'

One of the OU's first graduates was Brian Coleman, who managed to complete his degree in two years in order to be one of about 300 at the first graduation ceremony at Alexandra Palace in 1973. Most people take six years to gain an ordinary degree, but Mr Coleman had a teaching certificate which qualified him for a number of credits. Last year, Mr Coleman, a coach with the English Basketball Association based in Leeds, returned to the OU to start work on a master's degree, making his association with the university the longest of any of its students.

The vice-chancellor, John Daniel, is also an OU veteran. A summer appointment as a tutor in 1972 had a profound effect on his career, he says. Later that year he left Britain for Canada and, after 18 years in universities which focused on distance learning, returned to Britain in 1990 to take up his current job.

He hopes the OU will continue to lead the way. By the end of the decade its courses will be available to people all over the world through satellite broadcasting. He said: 'Many of the things the OU did 25 years ago which were then radical innovations are now commonplace. That's good, because there is nothing harder to run than a monopoly.'

(Photograph omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform