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Open University

The Open University (OU) is a distance learning university based in the United Kingdom, although over 25,000 students study overseas. It awards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and diplomas.

With over 200,000 students enrolled (in 2003), it is the largest academic institution in the UK, and qualifies as one of the World's Mega Universities. It consistently ranks amongst the UK's top ten universities.

Table of contents
1 Aims
2 Foundation
3 Students
4 Teaching methods
5 Undergraduate degrees
6 Business School
7 Research
8 Alumni
9 In Fiction
10 External Links
11 See Also


The OU aims to provide a University for those wishing to pursue higher education on a part-time or distance learning basis, including disabled people, who are officially a priority group within the University.


The Open University was founded by the Labour government of Harold Wilson, based on the vision of Michael Young (later Lord Young of Dartington). Planning commenced in 1965 under Minister of State for Education Jennie Lee Ashridge, who lead an advisory committee consistsing of university vice-chancellors, educationalists and broadcasters.

Walter Perry (later Lord Perry) was appointed the OUs first vice-chancellor in January 1969. A new Conservative Heath government in 1970 led to the budget cuts under Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod (who had earlier called the idea of an Open University "blithering nonsense"). However the OU accepted its first 25,000 students in 1971, adopting a radical open entry policy and, for a university, radical teaching methods. The total 'traditional' University population in the UK was around 130,000.

Since its foundation, the OU has inspired many other similar institutions around the world.


People from all walks of life and all ages take advantage of the OU; there are no entry requirements other than the ability to study at an appropriate level.

The University is popular with those who cannot physically attend a traditional university (because they are disabled, abroad, in prison, or serving in the armed forces) or who wish to study a first (or second, third ...) degree while holding down a full time job/looking after family members, whether to progress their career or allow them to change their career. Approximately 75% of students are in full time employment in addition to studying.

Due to the reduction in financial support for students attending traditional universities, the OU is also attracting first time undergraduates who can study at home in a cost efficient way. Around 11% of undergraduates are under 25 years old (2003 intake). The OU works with some schools to introduce A Level students to OU study.

Teaching methods

The OU uses a variety of methods for distance learning, including written materials, the internet, and television programmes on the BBC.

In the 1960s and 1970s, TV was typically used to provide lectures, and the image of the OU lecturer in brown-kipper tie and flared cord trouser became something of a national icon. OU programs are generally now much more innovative using documentary styles.

Teaching at the OU is rated as "excellent" by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education.

Undergraduate degrees

An OU undergraduate degree consists of 360 points, with each course being attributed a number of points (usually 30 or 60) depending on the content. Courses are also rated as levels 1, 2 or 3, roughly equating to first, second and third year courses at traditional universities. Students generally do not undertake more than 60 points per year, meaning that an undergraduate degree will take at least six years to complete. With the exception of some degrees in fast moving areas (such as computing) there is generally no limit on the time which a student may take.

In addition to traditional academic degrees, the OU has a number of specialist courses for industry and the professions including teaching and the law.

Business School

The Open University Business School, founded in 1983, is the largest provider of MBAs in the UK.


Like other UK univiesities, the OU actively engages in research. The OU's Planetary Sciences Research Institute has become particularly well known to the public through the Beagle 2 Mars space probe project lead by Professor Colin Pillinger, head of the Institute.

The OU now employs over 500 people engaged in research in over 25 areas, and there are over 1,200 research students. It spends approximately 2020 million each year on research, around 6 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the remainder from external funders.


The OU has over 2 million alumni, including:

In Fiction

Educating Rita for a fictional treatment of the OU

External Links

See Also