History: A child of the free-thinking 60s, The Open University was established by Harold Wilson’s Labour Party in 1969. Beginning life with the aim to “be open to the people”, the institution provided distance-learning education through posted journals, books and television lectures. Its raison d'être was (and still is) to provide ‘Open Learning’ university education on a part time and/or distance learning basis, opening up Higher Education to those previously unable to study. By 1971, the OU accepted its first cohort of 25,000 students, the equivalent of almost one fifth of the entire student population in Britain at the time. The campus at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes has been the headquarters of The Open University since it opened. 

Address: Everywhere! If you have a laptop, smartphone or tablet computer with the internet, the OU is yours. Its headquarters is in Walton Hall in Milton Keynes, a post-war new town located around 45 miles north west of London, and a further 13 national and regional centres, along with 350 study centres are dotted throughout the UK. As a distance learning institution which now conducts its lessons online however, the OU is available anywhere and reaches students around the world.

Who’s the boss: Martin Bean, a former general manager in the Worldwide Education Products Group at Microsoft.

Prospectus: Request a prospectus here.

UCAS code: O11

What you need to know

Easy to get into: For most undergraduate degrees you don’t need any formal qualifications. Postgraduate degrees do request an undergraduate degree equivalent to the UK qualification, however. See here for more information.

Vital statistics: The largest UK academic institution in terms of student numbers by a longshot, the OU boasts more than 190,000 students. Staff numbers come to over 8,000, including nearly 6,400 tutors. Students can choose from 120 undergraduate qualifications, along with foundation degrees, diplomas, postgraduate courses and professional skills courses. The undergraduate courses can be mixed and matched, too. The ancient books, journals and late night television lessons of yesteryear have been replaced by the web, making learning easier and more accessible. Students can learn where and when they like. Through the OU, students are able to stay on their course for as long as- wait for it- 16 years. The OU was ranked one of the top five UK universities for overall student satisfaction, according to the National Student Survey last year. Capitalising on its reputation as the most accessible of the educational institutions, the OU now provides the award-winning ‘OU Anywhere’ smartphone app, allowing students to study on the their Iphones or tablet computers without an internet connection. The OU’s partnerships with the BBC (an OU stalwart since the beginning) and Apples Itunes means students can download podcasts and listen to lessons on the move, or download video links to watch at a convenient time. Many modules offer students face-to-face support, along with contact via email or telephone. The OU also offers students access to tutorials and online forums.

Added value: In 2006 the OU launched the OpenLearn website, to provide free access to its educational materials worldwide, making it available for download and translatable. Keeping with the mantra of making education ‘open to all,’ the OU recently launched the social-learning platform Futurelearn.com, which is the first UK-led multi-institutional provider of free, open, online higher education courses.  Partners include over 20 of the best UK and international universities, and institutions such as the British Council, the British Library and the British Museum.

Fees: Very cheap. The cost of full time OU study works out at £5,264 per year. Students pay for each module separately, with many payment options available. Modules cost £1,316, and four modules make up a full-time year of study. Most OU students study 60 credits a year over six years, however. You can pay as you go, get a tuition fee loan or be sponsored by an employer. See here for more details.

Bursaries: The OU has a range of scholarships and bursaries available, including grants for students coming from households earning under £25,000 and not holding a higher education qualification at NQF/QCF level 4 or above. Click here and try the OU eligibility checker. 

The fun stuff

Glittering alumni: Barbara Follett, MP; Adam Ingram, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office; Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia; the comedian Lenny Henry; and the popstar Mylene Klass.

Alternative prospectus: Send any burning questions you have about the OU on The Student Room forum here.