The mission statement

mission and purpose

This follows on from yesterday’s post, last week at the Hewlett meeting I was asked to do a two minute presentation about OER work at the OU. There’s quite a lot to fit into two minutes, so I concentrated on four aspects:

  • Research – the OER Hub conducts research on the impact of OER
  • Community – GO-GN develops a global community of OER phD researchers
  • Content – OpenLearn releases thousands of hours of openly licensed learning material
  • International – projects like TESSA and TESS-India use locally developed OER to aid teacher education

My overarching theme was that all of these could be directly influenced by the OU’s mission statement. Now, most mission statements are rather mom and apple pie, and aspirational word bingo (I suspect many of you won’t be able to state your university’s mission statement if you work at one). But at the OU our mission statement ‘is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.’ This is something we all really sign up for and believe. It is also a really well crafted, concise mission statement that has a number of consequences.

In its original interpretation it translated as the following:

  • People – anyone can study with the OU, there were no entry requirements
  • Places – you could study at a distance and didn’t need to attend a campus
  • Methods – part time, distance education, augmented by the use of television, summer schools, face to face tutorials and then other technologies
  • Ideas – less tangible, but for instance when the traditional universities were being snobbish and refusing to let the OU run summer schools, they considered hiring a boat and doing summer school cruises around the UK (the other unis realised what a massive cash cow summer schools would be and so this idea was not put into place).

The adoption of OER can be seen as an extension of this mission. But it also underpins each of my four example above, for instance in doing research we have to be open to methods, there are often different approaches you need to adopt to get at an answer (not just quantitative research for example).

I raise this because someone commented yesterday that they hadn’t really twigged that it meant the OPEN university. I know what they mean, we get accustomed to saying it as one noun, and not hearing the individual elements. But the mission statement illustrates I think how much openness is core to its identity. It’s a pretty good statement to return to when considering the direction of the OU I find, and if I were tasked with coming up with a mission statement that was relevant today, I don’t think I could do better.


  • lornamcampbell

    Hi Martin, “open to people, places, methods and ideas” is a great mission statement and I really like the way you’ve expanded it. My question is whether the university applies these principles to its staff as well as its students? This isn’t a dig at the OU, not by a long shot, I could ask this question of any university in the current political and funding climate. We’re all trying to ensure that our institutions are more diverse and inclusive for students, and heaven forbid, more “customer focused”, but at the same time we’re seeing increasing casualisation of contracts, more challenging working conditions and greater insecurity for staff across the sector. I’m just thinking aloud here and wondering what we can do to ensure that these admirable open principles apply equally to both staff and students right across the sector? Ok, I’ll get off my Friday afternoon soap box now :}

    • admin

      Hi Lorna – soap boxes welcome 🙂 You are quite right to raise this. I can’t speak for the whole OU, but my impression is it does a good job in some areas, but not so good in others. For instance, research staff are exempt from the 3 year contract rule, which means they can be on endless contracts. This is currently being addressed from an HR perspective, but in terms of ‘open’ there’s a question as to whether this privileges certain people.

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