Open to the challenges

March 19, 2015

The letter “Light and shade in OU student numbers” (12 March) paints a misleading picture of the Open University’s performance. It also questions some of the core principles on which the university was founded.

Although it is true that the OU – in common with the rest of the part-time higher education sector – has faced significant challenges since the introduction of the high tuition fees and loans regime in England, we anticipated the impact of these changes and have been adapting to them. We continue to provide accessible, high-quality courses on a large scale that are excellent value for money.

The letter suggests that the OU has not been recruiting the right type of students and that this is reflected in our completion rates. Central to the OU’s mission is our willingness to accept anybody who wants to learn – indeed, many of our students tell us they would not have been able to access higher education were it not for the OU.

The suggestion that an “aggressive” marketing campaign somehow hides the level of commitment required to undertake study with the OU could not be further from the truth. Indeed, our latest campaign brings out the challenges of OU study and actually focuses on the sacrifices our students make in order to succeed.

We have made a strategic priority of increasing progression and completion, and have put a number of initiatives in place to achieve this, including enhanced induction, using data analytics to tailor help and advice, and student support teams.

Finally, the letter describes FutureLearn as a “distraction” from the OU’s core mission. Our Royal Charter includes a commitment to make education available to everyone, and along with more than 50 UK and international partners, that’s exactly what FutureLearn is doing. It will also contribute to the OU’s future financial sustainability. It is at the core of our mission.

Tim Blackman
Acting vice-chancellor, the Open University

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