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«DOCUMENT RESUME HE 002 539 ED 054 737 Eurich, Nell; Schvenkmeyer, Barry AUTHOR Great Britain's Open University: First Chance, Second TITLE Chance, or ...»

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HE 002 539

ED 054 737

Eurich, Nell; Schvenkmeyer, Barry


Great Britain's Open University: First Chance, Second


Chance, or Last Chance?


Academy for Educational Developm nt, Inc.




NOTE 38p.

MF-$0.65 HC-$3.29


*Adult Education; Equal Education; *Foreign


Countres; *Higher Education; Innovation; *Open Enrollment; Organization; *Universities *Open University Great Britain



Great Britain's Open University, through a unique blend of television, radio, correspondence courses, and local study centers, proposes to offer any adult seeking higher education the chance to earn a degree equal in quality to those from the best British universities, and at a cost to the nation and the student far below standard forms of instruction. This report discusses: (1) the creation of the Open University; (2) how it functions, in terms of admission requirements (one has to be at least 21), degrees, governance, organization and staff, and grading; (3) the planning of course methods and materials; (4) the development of foundation courses in mathematics, science, social sciences and the humanities;

the University's finances in terms of costs to students and costs (5) to the nation; (6) the composition of the student body; and (7) the effect of the Open University on higher education in Great Britain.

(AF) Nell Enrich and Barry Schwankrneyer Great Britain's

Open University:

First Chance, Second Chance, or Last Chance?

or Educational Development Paper Number Five U.S. DEPARTMENT OE HEALTH.










1 The Academy papers are published by the Academy for Educational Development, Inc., a nonprofit, tax-exempt planning organization.

The Academy assists sc. hools, colleges, universities, governmental agencies and other organizations with the development of their plans for the future and with the improvement o heir operations and programs.

Other papers in this series:

Agenda for the Colleges and Universities, by John W. Gardner educational Opportunity and Political Rcalities, by Frank Bowles Higher Education in a Time of Accelerating Change, by Arnold Toynbee* Educators Don't Know What Education Should Do, by Billy a Wireman* *single copies are avollable from the Academy's New York office at 437 MadIson Avenue, New York, New York 10022.

This repOrt was made possible through a grant from IBM in suppo Academy's effortc to es ablish an International University for Independent Study.

–  –  –

Academy for Educational Development Paper Number Five NELL EURICH, Dean of the Faculty at Manhattanville College, has examined the Open University as a teacher and administrator with a deep commitment to liberal studies, and a special interest in the application of technology to the improvement of higher education. Dr.

Eurich was formerly Dean of the Faculty and Professor of English at Vassar and a member of the United States Commission on Iristructional Technology.

BARRY SCHWENKMEYER, Assistant to the President of the Academy for Educational Development, has carried out numerous research assignments in higher education. He is a former teacher and administrator in adult education programs overseas.

Table of Contents

–  –  –

Thu authors would like to thank all those from the Open University who took time from busy schedules to talk about their plans and operations, and to review a draft of this paper: Walter Perry, Vice-Chancellor; John Ferguson, Dea.1 and Director of Studies in the Faculty of Arts; and Sir Brynmor Jones, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull, who sat on both the Planning and Advisory Committees of the Open University, and is now a member of its governing Council.

Thanks also go to those who helped the authors place the Open in the context of British higher education: F.R. Hornby, Chief Officer of the Council for National Academic Awards; P.F. Vowles, External Registrar, University of London; and S.P. Whitley, Assistant Secretary, Universittes Branch, Department of Education and Scienm Further avenues of inquiry emerged in conversations with Sir John Wolfenden, Director of the British Museum and formerly Chairman of the University Grants Committee; and Le.rd Evans, formerly Provost, Univerc;:y College, London.


When America accepted a policy of open admission to higher education for all who wish it, universities found themselves with extended commitments at the very time when budgets were being slashed and the quality of the education offered was itself being called to account.

Obviously, cost-effective and hig,h-quality education cannot be guaranteed for all by simply providing more of what now exists. Traditional classroom instruction is too expensive and too inflexible to remain the only available avenue for post-secondary education. The times require new ways to take education to the student, rather than bringing the student to college.

American educators have tried out a number of departures. Some, like correspondence study, have been around for a long time; others such as radio, television, and computer-aided learning, were born of the revolution in modern communications. However, the decentralized American system of higher education has discouraged experimentation on a scale sufficiently large to test out both the educational and financial advantages claimed by the innovators. Efforts to date have been fragmentary and inconclusivetoo limited to yield economies of scale, too under financed to achieve quality, and too isolated from the higher-education mainstream to serve as a real alternative to traditional instruction.

2 At this moment, external aid non-traditional programs are being studied, proposed and launched as trial balloons in this country.* American educators are keeping a sharp eye on Great Britain where, in January of 1971, a nationally supported educational innovation funded at up to $14.9 million and with an initial enrollment of 25,000 students through a unique blend commenced operations. The Open University of television, radio, correspondence instruction, and local study centers proposes to offer any adult seeking Ingber education the chance to earn a degree equal in quality to those from the hest British universities, and at a cost to the nation and the student far below standard forms of instruction.

On its success ride the hopes of many: those who would make a university degree much more widely available to adults for whom it has been an impossible dream; those cost-conscious public officials looking for an alternative to building more expensive residential colleges; and the innovators who want to harness the potential of independent study and modern communications to the task of education. The Open University constitutes a massive attempt to test out those aspirations in a single comprehensive program. If successful, it will change the future of higher education throughout the world.

*Ernest L. Boyer arid George C. Keller, "The Big Move to Non-Ca pus College:, Saturday Review, July 17, 1971.

THE BEGI ING The Open University was fired in the crucible of national politics and educational reform. Harold Wilson first presented the idia as a "urdversity of the air" 1963 campaign speech, picking up a phrase that in a encapsulated possibilities he had glimpsed during a visit to the United States. The proposal became an issue in the Labor Party's eampaig,; to unseat Home in the 1964 general election. It was designed to appeal to intellectuals, Laborites interested in the plight of the working classes, and young voters pressing for greater British participation in the technological revolution.

The Open owes its existence to the potent blend of educational experience, keen political support, and appreciation for innovation which its planners brought to bear from the outset. After Wilson's election, it took root close to the center of national government in the Department of Education and Science (formerly the Ministry of Education, and roughly analogous to the U.S. Office of Education) rather than in the mcre autonomous University Grants Committee (the receiving and dispensing agent for state financial support to universities). Miss Jennie Lee, Wilson's Undersecretary of the Department of Education and Science, widow of Aneurin Bevan, and a leading figure in the Socialist Party, led the planning effort.

Miss Lee (now a life peeress, who made history when she became the first woman in the House of Lords to wear a pants suit) worked with an Advisory Committee of outstanding British educators and statesmen. The Committee proceeded on the principle that the values of a traditional university degree should not be destroyed, but rather made available to everyone seeking them. Jennie Lee's determination, tenacity, outspoken eloquence, and her close political reiationship with Wilson helped the Advisory Committee to avoid debilitating compromises with entrenched 4 educational special interests, and to devote its full engergies to a consideration of how the idea could best be made a reality_ In a White Paper published in 1966, the Committee laid out the Open Uxiiversity's basic shape_ It acknowledged that Great Britain had a "substantial network of educational institutions that provide higher and further educa tion for both full-time and part-time students," but found them insufficient to the need because they were too restrictive in admissions_ with classes inconveniently scheduled for adult students and unsuitable in method of presentation, or inferior in status to the best British university education. (For in spite of the fact that Britain supports a number of non-university" institutions of higher learning, some of which are educationally equal to full-fledged universities, they do not provide the social cachet and perquisites thereof that accrue to a university degree-holder.) The Committee argued for "an imaginative use of new teaching techniques and teacher/student relationships, an open university providing degree courses as rigorous and demanding as those in existing universities," but made available to a student body far larger and more diverse than any traditional university could accommodate.

The White Paper warned that a "make-shift project" would "defeat its whole purpose, as its status will be determined by the quality of its teaching?' It therefore reconimended correspondence courses "of a quality unsurpassed anywhere in the world...reinforced by residential courses and tutorials" to support presentations on radio and television. While it urged cooperation with the BBC and existing educational institutions in both the preparation and operational stages, it nevertheless stressed that "the University will best achieve its aims by firm central control of a fully integrated operation."

A Planning Committee appointed in 1967 to work out the details of the Open University (as it was now called) lost no time in acting on these 5 recommendations. Eager to pass the point of no return before such time as the Consery tives might resume power, the Committee took less than two years to bring the Open from an idea to reality. In the spring of 1969 it handed over to the Council and Senate of the University a sketchplan from which full blueprints were then prepared.

By January 1971 the Open was indeed a full-fledged universitywith a royal charter, degree-granting powers, teacluing and research arms, a complete academic and administrative staff, some 220 local study centers, and a set of first-year university courses especially designed to be disseminated to adult students via the media, correspondence study, and seminars. Headquarters were established at Walton Han in Bletchley on a seventy-acre site about an hour out of Londonnear the new town of Milton Keynes midway between Oxford and Cambridge.


To those American educators perplexed over the all-or-nothing nature of demands for reforrn, the Open University appears as a refreshing and thoughtful blend of the old and the new.

Admissions There are no formal entrance require ents. Anyone 21 or older who lives in Great Britain may enroll.

Degrees general" degrees at the undergraduate level, the Open By granting University has can ied out the recommendation of th9 Planning Committee, which argued against specialized degrees: the nation's

–  –  –

foremost need was more integrated programs of higher earning. At the undergraduate level, then, the Open grants only the Bachelor of Arts degree, even though the majority of a student's work may be technological or scientific. This nomenclature follqws that of Oxford and Cambridge. An advantage to the general designation -is the students' freedom to select courses from among a broader spectrum than is usually permitted in other British universities. It has also maintained the traditional distinction between "ordinary" and "honors" degrees, awarding the latter upon completion of eight credits instead of six, some of which must be earned in more advanced courses. Although students are comparatively free proceed by electives, the University spells out all prerequisites, and not those combinations of courses for which it will not award more than one credit.

Higher degreesBachelor of Philosophy, Master of Philosophy, and Doctor of Philosophywill be given for advanced study and research to those possessing the B.A. or its "equivalent?' Further definition of the term "equivalent" allows the Open University another opportunity to affect and liberalize established practices, should it so desire.

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