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Keeping the



ideals open

While there may not be much room for

sentimentality in the education and learning

and development market, it is worth sparing a

thought for the travails of the Open University


The troubles at the OU can be laid firmly at the

feet of market forces. In 2001/12 242,000

students enrolled, by 2016/17 that number

had plunged to just under 174,000, a

precipitous fall of 28%.

And why has there been such a decline? Well

no prizes for guessing that money appears to

lie at the root of the problem. In 2012 the cap

on part-time fees was raised to £6,750.

Maintenance loans have been introduced for

part-time students, but it is perhaps no

surprise that such a measure looks too little

too late. The average cost of tuition for an OU

degree, which typically takes six years, is


Perhaps OU is an idea whose time has been

and now has gone. Back in the 1960s

distance learning meant something very

different from the technology-enabled joys of

massive open online courses (MOOCs) and

the like. And although the OU did

determinedly ride the ever faster technological

waves perhaps the digital revolution ushers in

too many different options for learners and

those who may support them

Those who missed out on an education first

time around have always needed long-term

steely determination to take learning in later

life seriously. Overcoming the barriers of

juggling work, domestic responsibilities and

squeezing in study is a challenge which can

only be met with a large dollop of

commitment. Put in one barrier too many -

such as an eye wateringly tough financial

hurdle - and it is no wonder that many decide

that a part-time degree is no longer for them.

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Peter Williams


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