Planning for the Open University began in 1964, when Harold Wilson was elected prime minister. Mr Wilson had unveiled the concept of a university open to all adults in the United Kingdom the previous year. It was not until 1969 that the university was established by Royal Charter. It admitted its first students in 1971.
Five years later, the OU had six faculties offering 92 different courses. Student numbers had grown to 56,000. By 1980, numbers had rocketed to more than 90,000.
In 1982, the university moved into Europe, offering courses in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. By 1995, some 5,500 students studied with the OU in Europe.
The business school, now the biggest in Europe, opened in 1982. A year later, the OU formed its school of education, offering professional development courses for teachers.
In 1992, the university launched its validation service. It accredits degrees from institutions that do not have degree-awarding powers, such as the Central School of Speech and Drama.
It also validates awards in commercial colleges, industry, professional bodies and charities. The service is international: institutions in France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Hungary offer British awards accredited by the OU.
Over the years, the OU has developed links with overseas institutions. Since 1994, for example, it has operated the Open University Degree Programme with the Singapore Institute of Management. This year, it set up a sister institution in the United States. It plans to offer American awards validated by one of the six regional accreditation bodies in the US.