The Open University was founded in 1971 as a means of opening further education to people from all walks of life who for various reasons have found standard university education off-limits to them. It has for 40 years allowed adults with families to pursue their goals at their own pace and at a substantially reduced price than that of most courses of study. However it looks like this affordable pre-pay alternative is set to change after a ‘Comprehensive Spending Review’ scheduled to take place during 2012.
“The Open University was the world’s first successful distance teaching university, founded on the belief that communications technology could bring high quality degree-level learning to people who had not had the opportunity to attend traditional campus universities.”
I am working on a module (AA100) toward a BA in History and literature on their open degree scheme. I decided when I left school to go out to work rather than attend college and end up to my eyes in debt. After two years in work I had an idea of what I wanted to do but my personal circumstances meant that leaving work to attend university was impractical. This is where the OU came in. Their modules are by no means cheap as and the module I am taking now cost £650 on it’s own and that’s without the additional cost of public transport to my tutorials as i don’t drive (£10 a trip to approx two 2 hr sessions per month for the duration of the course and included in the course price). If, as I was told by a fellow student this week, they really do plan to double the price of their modules next year, it will make the cost of continuing with my degree prohibitive, and render the time effort and money I have already invested in order to improve my writing style and build on my CV wasted as I will no longer be able to afford to continue my course. I am sure I am not the only person who will find themselves in this position.
“In an article for Where? Magazine (autumn 1962), Michael Young proposed ‘an Open University’ to prepare people for external degrees of London University. The BBC and the Ministry of Education were already discussing plans for a ‘College of the Air’, while in March 1963, a Labour Party study group under the chairmanship of Lord Taylor presented a report about the continuing exclusion from higher education of people from lower-income groups. It proposed an experiment on radio and television: a ‘University of the Air’ for serious, planned, adult education.”
The cynic in me suspects that the Open University is preempting an exponential rise in the demand for their courses in response to the coalition’s disgusting and obviously socially motivated rise in the cost of standard courses and has decided to raise their prices correspondingly in order to take advantage of that increase. This is a move which would not have been contemplated let alone allowed under a truly progressive government (i.e NOT Tory).It is all very well when a company raises their prices in order to fund a rise in costs.
Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, was thinking about ‘a new educational trust’ that brought together many institutions and organisations to produce television and other educational material, rather than an independent and autonomous institution that granted its own degrees.
“That Easter Sunday (1963) I spent in the Isles of Scilly. Between church and lunch I wrote the whole outline for a University of the Air.” Harold Wilson
When Labour won the election in 1964, Harold Wilson appointed Jennie Lee as Minister for the Arts and asked her to take over the University of the Air project. Without Jennie Lee, it seems likely that Harold Wilson’s idea would have failed. Her total commitment and tenacity gradually wore down the mountains of hostility and indifference that she faced.”
The Open University’s approach to admissions was truly unique which is what made it so refreshingly radical. It did not insist on any prior education to qualify for their courses, only that the students completed two foundation level courses before moving on to more advanced studies. Despite open opposition the OU has triumphed and more than exceeded expectations of their potential. Like the NHS (not perfect but greatly favourable to the alternative), the Open University is an institution well worth protecting which has benefited thousands and stands to act as an educational benefactor to thousands more. We, along with other students of limited means, must rally against any and all plans to return the necessity of further education to the status of an elitist commodity available only to the very well-off.
“Charismatic figures like Arthur Marwick, Professor of History, and Mike Pentz, the first Dean of Science, roared defiance at more conventional peers elsewhere, as the OU proved triumphantly that it is possible to teach university-level courses to unqualified students, at a distance. Science home experiment kits, late night TV broadcasts and residential schools became part of the OU folklore.”
If they do double their fees, the consequences will be that their services will cease to be available to many who study with them. This may not sound serious to you now but please consider that while financial support is available for their courses it is not available to any but the very worst off. It will become necessary to take out loans to pay for the courses and thus negate the benefit that students may take these courses without being encumbered by crippling student debts. In turn it will mean that many existing OU students will be unable to continue with their courses as they do not qualify for the financial aid and cannot afford to take out -or obtain- a loan from a bank. The influx of new students who would otherwise have been applying for standard university places will of course find themselves with a more affordable alternative and make up for the short fall of those who are unable to afford the course prices but the OU was not founded as a business or as a money spinner it is a service provider aimed. It is bad enough that the coalition seems to be systematically sucking this country back 60 years but their plans for limiting the availability of higher education through cost is both sickening and frightening. Stealing the people’s access to means of self-improvement has never benefited any nation and the coalition’s arbitrary attempts of social engineering are only going to cause lasting damage to the prospects of our young people on one level and to the welfare of the country as a whole on another.