A 1963 Labour Party report recommended a “University of the Air” (likely in reference to TV broadcasting). This was to address exclusion of lower income groups from education. Envisaged as utilising technology (TV and radio) with distance learning and to be open to anyone regardless of prior qualification. After the 1964 election plans took shape and in 1969 The Open University was established by Royal Charter.

In 2016, Theresa May made a speech talking of social equality and mobility. While the sentiment is encouraged, the reality is that since tuition fees were introduced in England for part time education in 2012 there has been a 56% decline in student registration. This flies in the face of the founding principal of the Open University – which was the government’s vision. It baffles me when I hear people who probably paid no tuition fees but received student grants complain that undergraduates should pay for their education.

Access to part time education really falls into three categories: funding; requirements; and flexibility. Entitled to transitional arrangements, I doubt I’d have been able to fund the qualification otherwise (it increased from approximately £5000 to £17000).

Previous educational experience puts off many. The Open University offers plenty of support. Access courses are available and modules at level one teach everything needed. I’ve even experienced the university going the extra mile when I moderated a forum on TU100. Many students were struggling with the maths needed and everyone was provided, free of charge, the materials to MU123 – Discovering Mathematics.

Flexibility was essential – between family and work commitments I could not attend school full time. Serving in the military is unpredictable but the university allowed me to defer exams, take exams in theatre and even defer entire presentations.

My experience with the Open University

Open University - Graduated!

Graduated!

After school I went to Napier University on a clearing place advertised in the paper, where I studied Computing. Life intervened and I left after completing first year when my son was born. It was the right decision then but I always regretted it. In 2008 I decided to do something about it and registered with the Open University. I graduated from the Open University in 2017 a 2:1 BSc (Hons) Computing and Information Technology. My graduation was one of the proudest moments in my life.

The Open University is not perfect. Some modules are badly administered – TM470’s 2016/17 presentation for example. Students on transitional arrangements had to complete this by December 2017 which drove a higher than normal demand. The university was unable to recruit enough tutors and many students were offered money back to defer to the following year’s presentation.

Allocation of tutors can be a real lottery – many presentations will have students on forums asking what to do because no-one is active in their tutor groups and that they have had no feedback. That is more problematic than it sounds – many level one module assessment questions require participation in forums. Most of my tutors have been outstanding – especially mathematics and programming.

At level one I took:

  • Data, computing and information (M150)
  • Networked living: exploring information and communication technologies (T175)
  • Using Mathematics (MST121)

Level two:

  • Exploring Mathematics (MS221)
  • Designing applications with Object-oriented programming with Java (M255)
  • Visual Basic (MT264)
  • Web technologies (TT284)
  • Algorithms, data structures & computability (M269)

Level three:

  • Developing concurrent distributed systems (M362)
  • Success and Failure in IT Projects (TM353)
  • Software Engineering (TM354)
  • Computing and IT project (TM470)