Openeye: The OU Is Ready to Take on a Wider Role in National Higher Education Provision ; OPEN VIEW

By Vincent, David | The Independent (London, England), October 3, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Openeye: The OU Is Ready to Take on a Wider Role in National Higher Education Provision ; OPEN VIEW


Vincent, David, The Independent (London, England)


The Open University is often seen as the ultimate niche institution. It does what it does supremely well, but somehow outside the fence. Even when it comes top of the national student survey, as it did recently, commentators still regard the OU as playing in a league of one.

Yet over the years we have come to be a formidable presence across the system. We are not only much the largest university in terms of numbers, but the only one with a truly national presence. We invest far more in curriculum, learning software and learner support than any other single institution.

Our students appreciate this. We confer wide-ranging benefits on society and the economy. The question is whether this is enough. As UK higher education struggles with the challenges of widening participation, the skills agenda, the revolution in information technology and the demographic transition, could the resources of the OU be better used across the system?

In a path breaking experiment HEFCE, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, has just funded two projects designed to explore the national role of The Open University. It has awarded over pounds 2m to support two sets of consortia exploiting OU curricula in the sciences, modern languages and key shortage subjects. And it is sharing in the funding of a joint post between HEFCE and the OU to develop ways in which the OU can provide infrastructural services to the sector as a whole.

The experiment demands that a new balance be struck between autonomy and collaboration. All UK universities, including the OU, are rightly jealous of their independence. HEFCE is acutely aware of its obligation not to favour any one institution, nor to exceed its powers of guidance and accountability. Yet we also know that all against all in higher education guarantees nothing except an expense of spirit and effort.

The regional agenda has been a response to this problem, and the OU is now taking part in 13 lifelong learning networks.

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Openeye: The OU Is Ready to Take on a Wider Role in National Higher Education Provision ; OPEN VIEW
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