open degree

Final Open programme role

This is going to be a month of ‘Lasts” for me, so I beg your forbearance for the extended farewells. Last week I chaired the last Board of Studies meeting for the Open Programme. This was a role I took on five years ago. The Board of Studies is the tri-annual meeting where we bring together issues relating to a particular qualification area. The Open Programme covered the Open Degree, the combined STEM degree and Open Masters.

I’ve blogged previously about these, and in particular the power of allowing students choice and flexibility in their pathway. A point I’ve made often, but as Jack White would say, it bears repeating, is that this flexibility (over 250 different modules can be combined for the Open Degree) is a function of asynchronous study. It allows students, even if they are studying at full time intensity, to combine modules of their choice without fear of timetable clashes. There may be some overlap in assessment dates and occasional events but there is sufficient flexibility built into most timetables to alleviate these. This is a benefit so often overlooked when institutions adopt online learning and replicate the lecture model, with all of its inbuilt logistical headaches.

More importantly though the Open qualifications treat the student with respect I think. They are shapeable to their needs, interests, and context. Of course, named degrees are important, and the dominant mode across the sector, but they are not the only possibility. Many of our open students speak passionately about how this flexibility gave them what they wanted and needed.

A small whinge – I think the OU itself rather hides this jewel away and doesn’t promote it anywhere near enough. When I tell people about it they often respond along the lines of “that sounds great, I wish I’d known about that when I did my degree”. At the OU and across the sector we need to be encouraging more of this type of study, in a complex, messy world the narrow confines of specialist degrees won’t be sufficient by themselves to wrangle the society we live in to a meaningful, caring one (although specialism will be an important part of the mix).

The photo is the fantastic bespoke artwork the lovely Open team commissioned through conversations with Bryan Mathers.


  • Dominic Newbould

    The Open Programme has been a cornerstone of openness, in all its guises. So, perhaps one of the most fundamental interpretations of being “open” is the idea of access taken to a new level.
    I thought about this when you were delivering your inaugural lecture at the OU, back in 2019, just before I jumped ship, so to speak, to teach in a university in Hanoi.
    The OU had its roots in the foundation of the OU by a socialist prime minister and a fiercely democratic “project manager”, Jennie Lee.
    It was democratic, above all else. One colleague, whom I interviewed for an introductory video about the Open University, claimed that the OU was a “device for liberation”, which I think encapsulates its democratic nature; and, in addition, it was and always should be transparent, not taking the elitist, “secret garden” approach to education.
    When I think of the OU Mission, the four “opens”, and Geoffrey Crowther’s famous speech, I always return to democratic access and transparency, as the key values. And I remember many course team discussions from the late 1970s onwards, when we discussed how much information about marking, such as differentiating between student notes on TMAs and accompanying tutor notes. As far as possible, it was argued, they should be the same, with no information withheld.
    That is my plea for transparency and democracy, along with accessibility, in the basic value system of the OU.

    • mweller

      Hi Dominic – I really like that phrase “device for liberation”. I agree, open entry is an incredibly radical idea, one that I think is underappreciated now.

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