The Open University


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The Independent Online

History: Harold Wilson's baby, the OU is arguably his greatest legacy. Whatever the stuffed shirts said in the Sixties, no one doubts the excellence of its degree courses today.

Address: The main campus is at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes. However there are 13 regional centres and 350 study and tutorial centres nationally. Students study at home or at work at their own pace with access to tutors via the regional centres, e-mail, online forums and the telephone.

Ambience: It has one of the most diverse student communities with students from 13-to-99-years-old and more than 12,000 students with disabilities.

Who's the boss? Martin Bean took up the post of vice-chancellor in October 2009.

Prospectus: 0845 300 60 90 or visit the website here.

UCAS code: Not part of UCAS so apply direct.

What you need to know

Easy to get into? Yes. No formal entry requirements for undergraduate courses. Around 44 per cent of undergraduates start with less than the minimum entry requirements for traditional universities.

Vital statistics: The OU offers over 570 courses in more than 70 subjects and presently nearly 250,000 people are enrolled. Since its opening in 1969 it has taught over two million students and teaches a third of all part-time undergraduates in the UK. Around 70 per cent of students are in full or part-time employment during their studies.

Added value: As well as awarding degrees, it works equally with small and medium size enterprises and FTSE 100 companies designing courses and learning programmes that address specific challenges in a business. Short, online courses for continued professional development are also available in business and management, computing and technology, updating teaching practices, the food industry, professional skills and travel planning. It also has a 35-year partnership with the BBC and has co-produced programmes such as Coast, Barristers, James May’s Big Ideas and more recently Bang Goes the Theory and The Bottom Line.

Teaching: Its style of teaching is called 'supported open learning'. Students learn in their own time by reading course material, working on course activities, writing assignments and perhaps working with other students. ‘Supported’ means support from a tutor and the student services staff at Regional Centres, as well as from centralised areas such as the Library or Open University Students Association. Some courses include a residential or day school, held at various times and locations. E-learning – making intelligent use of media such as computer conferencing, email, CD-Roms, DVDs, the internet and of course, television and radio programmes – has always formed a major part of the OU’s courses and student support services, and the OU is regarded as Britain’s major e-learning institution.

Research: One of the most improved UK universities, moving up 23 places in the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) league table to 46th in 2008.

Accommodation: No need for all that as studying from home means no expensive halls fees.

Transport links: Don't need them - the OU comes to your home computer or workplace.

Fees: Range dependent on course and geographical location. Students pay by module and fees include all relevant materials.

Bursaries: A variety of financial support packages is available to UK students. To check eligiblity, visit the website. Some professional bodies, unions and research associations have negotiated a ten per cent fee discount for their members.

The fun stuff

Glittering alumni: Actors Sheila Hancock and Connie Booth; Craig Brown CBE, former Scotland football manager; singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading; TV presenter Matthew Kelly; comedian Lenny Henry; model Jerry Hall; Air Chief Marshall Brian Burridge; and Neil Scales, chief executive of Mersey travel.