BBC pulls plug on late-night learning

May 14, 2004

The Open University is hoping to swap its pre-dawn schedules for slots at prime time when the final coursework programmes are aired in 2006.

The BBC broadcast the first OU student programme in January 1971, introducing the university's shield and circle logo to a bleary-eyed late-night television audience.

It also established beards, bad hair and kipper ties as the public image of the academic.

The university has revealed that its final coursework programme will be aired on BBC Two in 2006.

The OU will focus instead on nurturing its budding collaboration with the BBC on "mainstream" projects for broadcast across the corporation's TV and radio channels.

A gradual shift towards programmes aimed at the general viewer rather than at students has seen the OU involved in BBC One primetime programmes such as Leonardo , and What the Industrial Revolution Did For Us on BBC Two.

The OU will send out course-related material on DVD or video through the post or via the web.

The university described its change in approach as reflecting its charter mandate to offer education for all and attempt to "encourage people who perhaps hadn't thought of learning that learning could be for them".

The decision to cease production of programmes for students was announced in 2002. The university and BBC have now set 2006 as the final year for the OU's course-related programmes, but the precise date and content of the final programme has yet to be decided.

The first programme, Open Forum , was broadcast on January 3 1971 and saw Chris Christodoulou, the OU's first secretary, lead a panel of academics through a discussion about the OU concept.

David Robinson, head of the OU's Broadcast Unit, said: "The university decided two years ago that broadcasting late at night or very early in the morning on BBC Two wasn't the best way to deliver material to specific students on specific courses.

"It decided not to produce new TV programmes for students - but some programmes had already been made and they will go out until their natural life ends: 2006 will be the last year that the late-night programmes will be broadcast."

How this will affect negotiations between the BBC and the government about renewal of the corporation's charter - due in December 2006 - remains to be seen.

It is also unclear how the BBC proposes to fill its early morning schedules on BBC Two once the OU programmes end.

Mr Robinson added: "The university hasn't decided to give up broadcasting.

Under a new agreement with the BBC, the OU will put forward programme proposals and the BBC channel controllers will look at them and hopefully accept some of them.

"The university will meet the costs of making the programmes or work as co-producer with the BBC. Instead of OU broadcasts at unsocial hours on BBC Two, you will find programmes on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three and BBC Four, Radio 3 and 4, BBC World and the BBC World Service.

"We also hope to make it to Radio 1 and Radio 2."

Liz Cleaver, controller of BBC Learning, said the corporation's relationship with the OU was "one of the great success stories".

"Mainstream television presents tremendous opportunities to draw more people into learning, and that's where the BBC and the OU want to concentrate their efforts in the future," she said.

"But for delivery of the formal learning resources required for OU coursework, we agree that the new interactive technologies are likely to be more effective."

Mr Robinson added: "The style of programme is very different. They are still OU programmes, but they are designed to generate interest in lifelong learning and widening participation."

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