Open University

From New World Encyclopedia

The Open University
Walton hall.JPG
Motto Learn and Live
Established 1969
Type Public
Location Milton Keynes (main campus) & regional centres, United Kingdom

The Open University (OU), established in 1969, is the United Kingdom's distance learning government-supported university notable for having an open entry policy. The majority of students are based in the UK, but its long-distance and on-line capabilities allow students to matriculate from around the world. The university awards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, as well as non-degree qualifications such as diplomas and certificates, or continuing education units.

Although not the first to offer distance learning, the OU is the largest such university in the UK, and has pioneered delivery methods that have developed as technology has advanced. More significantly, the OU pioneered an open admissions policy, allowing people of all academic levels and achievements an opportunity to further their education.

Mission and reputation

The Open University (OU) aims to provide a university education more accessible than traditional institutions of higher education through its open enrollment, distance, and internet-based educational programs. Beginning with correspondence courses using "study packs" of textbooks and study guides, with information from supplementary materials including audio tapes, video tapes, and television lectures, the programs developed at OU to fulfill this mission have led the university to the cutting edge of technological and educational innovation. This has become one of the OUs most valuable selling points.[1]

Did you know?
The Open University has more disabled students than any other UK or European university.

The OU also is committed to social justice and strongly supports many lines of diversity, as it sees discrimination as a "waste of human resources and a denial of opportunity for individual self-fulfillment."[2] Hence, the OU strives to fight social injustice and discrimination through education. Its vision includes serving disabled people, who are officially a priority group within the University. When the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) was dissolved in 1992, the British Government asked the Open University to continue its work of awarding degrees in non-university institutions. The CNAA formerly awarded degrees at polytechnics which have since become universities.

While many universities promote admissions selectivity as a staple of prestige, the Open University's different model establishes success as just the opposite; inclusiveness is a major point with the OU, and it is generally regarded as one of the most inclusive schools in the world, particularly in regards to its distance learning programs.[3] With more than 250,000 students enrolled, including more than 25,000 students studying overseas,[4] it is the largest academic institution in the UK by student number, and qualifies as one of the world's largest universities. It was rated top university in England and Wales for student satisfaction in the UK government national student satisfaction survey in 2005[5] and 2006.[6] The OU was rated second in the 2008 survey[7] and joint second with Oxford University in the 2010 National Union of Students survey.[8] Teaching at the OU has been rated as "excellent" by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.[9]


Berrill Building, built in 1997, forms the new entrance to the 48-hectare Open University campus at Walton Hall in Milton Keynes, England.

The Open University was founded by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, based on the ideas of Michael Young for a "teleuniversity." He envisioned an educational institution that could use the growing telecommunications innovations of the 1960s to reach out to a larger number and greater variety of students than more traditional educational institutions. Planning commenced in 1965 under Minister of State for Education Jennie Lee, who led an advisory committee consisting of university vice-chancellors, educationalists, and broadcasters.

The main branch located in Milton Keynes opened in 1970, enrolling its first 25,000 students for classes beginning at the start of 1971. It adopted a radical open admissions policy which took into account work and life experience, as well as academic achievement. Enrollment quickly increased, and by 1987-1988 yearly enrollment had doubled to 100,000 students, reaching 200,000 by 2001-2002. By 2007 the University had educated more than two million students, 675,000 of whom studied enough courses to achieve a qualification after successful assessment.

The University opened regional offices throughout the United Kingdom. Further expansion to other countries, however, proved to be more difficult. In 2000, the university opened a satellite campus in the United States. This American branch closed only two years later, though, due to under enrollment.[3] Beyond such set backs, the Open University continues to grow in popularity, and develop innovative education programs, both for non-traditional and traditional students.


Ireland Region office, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Open University has a main campus and headquarters located in Milton Keynes, with 13 regional centers located throughout the United Kingdom. Each location offers classrooms and administrative offices, although the Milton Keynes campus is the largest and serves as the central administrative headquarters for the university.[10] All campuses include tutors and student service offices that provide academic support, as well as vocational and life counseling.

The Betty Boothroyd Library is located at the main campus and houses a large collection, along with studying facilities and resources such as computers. The libraryhouses several special collections, such as The Oral History Project, the Fauvel Collection, the Jennie Lee Collection, and the British Institute for Management Archive. The library also offers a wide range of on-line services, including collection catalogs, databases, and e-journals to all students from all campuses.[11]

The university offers an on-line conference and networking forum, called FirstClass, which is used for study-groups, social networking, and subject related discussions to help develop a sense of community among its students.[12]


The majority of Open University courses are offered through distance learning. The OU pioneered this mode of delivery through its correspondence courses, which allow students to study from any location and make their own study schedule, within the time frame required to complete each course. Such courses have four elements: the study pack, tutorials, assessments, and examinations.[13]

The "study pack" contains the material for the course in the form of textbooks, a study guide, and supplementary materials which can be in the form of audio tape, video tapes, and so forth. In the 1970s many lectures were recorded and broadcast on television using the BBC channel, "BBC2."[13] Today, these materials are increasingly presented via the internet.

In addition to self-study, students are assigned tutors, who provide academic support in the form of answering questions as well as running tutorial sessions to go over the material and discuss assignments. There is continuous assessment in the form of assignments that must be completed and submitted to the tutor within specified time frames. Courses conclude with a final examination, which may be taken at a local university.

The Open University grants undergraduate Certificates, typically awarded after 60 completed credits, Diplomas after 120 credits, ordinary Bachelor degrees after 300 credits, and Bachelor degrees with honors. Majors for these types of degrees include Engineering, Business Studies, Childhood and Youth Studies, Statistics, Criminology, English language and Literature, Environmental Studies, European Studies, Health Studies, History, Human Geography, General Humanities, Information technology, International Studies, Language Studies, Mathematics, Molecular science, Natural sciences, Nursing Practice, Philosophy, Psychology, Physical science, Politics, and Social Sciences.

As well as degrees in named subjects, the Open University also grants "open" Bachelor degrees where the syllabus is designed by the students to combine any number of Open University courses up to 360 credits for an open honors degree.

The university also offers a range of Masters of Arts levels courses such as Art History, Classical Studies, Environment, Policy and Society, History, Music, Online and Distance Education, Popular Culture. The Master of Science majors include Advancing Healthcare Practice, Development Management, Engineering, Forensic Psychology and Criminology, Human Resource Management, International Finance and Management, Medical Physics and Social Research Methods. Postgraduate certificates are awarded for 60 points of study on specified courses; postgraduate diplomas are awarded for 120 points of study on specified courses.

The University offers "Advanced Diplomas" that involve 60 credits at undergraduate level and 60 credits at postgraduate level, designed as "bridges" between undergraduate and postgraduate study. The OU provides the opportunity to study for a PhD on a part-time distance learning basis, or a full time on-site basis, in a wide range of disciplines.

Colleges, institutes, and centers

Open University has seven colleges, or Faculties as they are known, plus the Law School:

Open University also has three Institutes:

There are five Research Centers:

The Open University is also partnered with other universities in two Economic and Social Research Council centres:

Student life

Students at the Open University have a different academic experience from those at more traditional universities. For its distance learning students, the OU uses a variety of methods, including written and audio materials, the Internet, disc-based software, and television programs on DVD. Materials are composed of originally-authored work by in-house and external academic contributors, and from third-party materials licensed for use by OU students. For most courses, students are supported by tutors ("Associate Lecturers") who provide feedback on their work and are generally available to them at face-to-face tutorials, by telephone, and/or on the Internet.

Some courses have mandatory day schools. These are day-long sessions which a student must attend in order to pass the course. For example, the Advanced Certificate in Health Promotion has two mandatory day schools/workshops, focusing on communication skills, counseling, and practical issues related to health promotion. Nevertheless, it is possible to obtain an excusable absence on the basis of ill-health (or other extenuating circumstances), and many courses have no mandatory face-to-face component.[14]

Similarly, many courses have traditionally offered week long summer schools offering an opportunity for students to remove themselves from the general distractions of their life and focus on their study for a short time.

Social life for Open University students is also different from the traditional university model. Since most of its students are older and employed full-time, the main campus and regional centers are not like other campuses that house students and offer a varied social life and community beyond academics. An increasingly large population of students do not attend classes in person at all, because they are disabled, abroad, in prison, serving in the armed forces, or looking after family members.

This does not mean however that there is no community of social interaction among students. Whereas many universities offer extracurricular activities and clubs that meet in person, the Open University has the Open University Students Association, which operates both in person and via the internet and is designed to help students with academics as well as career and social related advice. The FirstClass web program is also designed to help students form discussion and study groups with fellow students, no matter which campus they attend. Both of these services are designed to develop a long-distance network for the students of the Open University.[15]


Every year the Open University hosts the OUSA Annual Conference in which administrative and faculty of the university deliver speeches and presentations and hear opinions from students on topics related to the university and its operations.[16]

Unlike most UK universities, degree ceremonies at the Open University are not the occasion on which degrees are formally conferred. This happens in absentia at a joint meeting of the University's Council and Senate ahead of the ceremony. The University's ceremonies—or "Presentations of Graduates"—occur during the long summer throughout Britain and Ireland, as well as one ceremony in Versailles, France. These ceremonies are presided over by a senior academic at Pro-Vice-Chancellor level or higher, and have the normal ritual associated with a graduation ceremony, including academic dress and procession.

Advantages and disadvantages

The Open University was founded to allow access to higher education to a greater diversity of people, particularly those who were unable to enter a traditional institution. Thus, it provides adult education tailored to suit working adults and those with family commitments who are unable to attend a university full-time. They can take courses from their home on a flexible part-time basis, with no need to relocate or change their schedule to fit fixed class hours.[13]

On the other hand, students at the OU miss out on the social atmosphere of a campus, with personal interactions with fellow students as well as teachers, and the study facilities such as libraries that a traditional university setting offers. For many this is not a problem, since they have their own lives complete with family, friends, colleagues at work, and their own local libraries and so forth. However, this also raises another disadvantage. Students may find themselves alone in having academic studies, and it takes effort to resist the social demands of family, friends, and work and to discipline themselves to complete assignments on time. Such disadvantages notwithstanding, the OU offers opportunities in higher education for those who might otherwise not have had them.[13] Challenges are part of the educational process; those at the OU just differ somewhat from those at a traditional campus.

Similar institutions

Since its creation, the OU has paved the way for a number of other institutions that have adopted similar on-line and distance education programs, with special emphasis on accepting non-traditional students based on their life experience. Such universities are accredited at the same level as the traditional institutions in their different regions. The following are some examples.

The Open University of Israel (Hebrew: האוניברסיטה הפתוחה, HaUniversita HaPtukha) is one of Israel's major universities and was modeled after the Open University in the UK. The university is based the city of Ra'anana, awards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, diplomas, and certificates, and accepts students from around the world.

The Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University of Thailand was officially established by Royal Charter on September 5, 1978. As the eleventh state university, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University has all the honors and privileges of other universities. It was the first open university in Southeast Asia to use a distance teaching/learning system.

The Open Universities Australia (OUA) (previously Open Learning Australia (OLA)) is an Australian open distance education organization. The majority of students are based in Australia, although the courses are available to the rest of the world. Undergraduate courses offered have no first year entry requirements, and there are no quotas for most courses.

The Open Learning Division of Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is one of Canada's leading distance education providers and helped found the Canadian Virtual University, operating in collaboration with other educational institutions and professional, industry, and business associations. Most of the over 400 courses offered through TRU-OL can be taken anytime at an individually-determined pace and offered continually. TRU-OL also offers enrollment into more than 57 programs which can be completed through distance and online learning. Students have access to programs including: adult secondary school completion; certificates and diplomas, including advanced and post-baccalaureate; associate degrees; and bachelor's degrees. Open Learning also offers Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR), which awards credit for knowledge achieved through work and life experience.

The Open University of Greece (Hellenic Open University—HOU) is a multi-school university run by the Greek State. The institution, which is based in Patras, is unique in the Greek context in that it exclusively provides distance education at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The University of Phoenix (UPX) is a private university founded in 1976 by John Sperling in Phoenix, Arizona. It specializes in adult education. The largest in North America, it has an enrollment of more than 345,300 students.[17] The university has more than 200 campuses offering more than 100 degree programs at the associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels in various fields of study.[18]


  1. Open University, Statement on Equality and Diversity Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  2. Open University, "About the OU: Equality and Diversity." Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Michael Arnone, "United States Open University Announces It Will Close in June," The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 2002. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  4. Open University, Facts and figures Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  5. BBC, "Students rate university courses," BBCNews September 21, 2005. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  6. BBC, "Student satisfaction survey results," BBC News, August 23, 2006. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  7. Open University, "The Open University highly rated for student satisfaction," Open University, September 11, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  8. Graeme Paton, Fifth of university students 'unhappy with course'. Daily Telegraph, 18 Aug 2010. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  9. Sesame, OU ranks ninth in University League Table, July 31, 2002.
  10. Open University, "About the OU: How studying works." Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  11. Open University, "Library Info." Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  12. Open University. "About the OU" Retrieved February 3, 2009.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 H2G2, The Open University, H2G2 Edited Guide, BBC. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  14. Open University "Certificate in Health Sciences." Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  15. Open University, OU Students Association. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  16. Open University, OUSA Annual Conference. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  17. Lee Allen, "University of Phoenix provides growth opportunities for working adults," Inside Tuscon Business, August 08, 2008. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  18. University of Phoenix, "UPX Campus Locations."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bates, A. W. (Tony). Technology, Open Learning and Distance Education. New York, NY: Routledge, 1995. ISBN 0415127998.
  • H2G2, The Open University. H2G2 Edited Guide, BBC. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  • Legge, D. Education of Adults in Britain. Open University, 1982. ISBN 0335002676.
  • Perraton, Hilary. Open and Distance Learning in Developing Countries. RoutledgeFalmer, 2000. ISBN 0415194199.
  • Raggatt, Peter, Richard Edwards, and Nick Small (eds.). The Learning Society: Challenges and Trends. New York, NY: Routledge, 1995. ISBN 0415136156.

External links

All links retrieved November 17, 2022.


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