The Open University is strengthening its global position in higher education. Alison Utley reports on moves to run British teaching programmes; Kam Patel on initial American successes
Within a few weeks the Higher Education Funding Council for England is to announce that two multi-million pound schemes to improve teaching and learning in universities will be consolidated at The Open University's centre for higher education practice.
Negotiations are well advanced to bring the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning and the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme into the centre. HEFCE, which funds the schemes, wants to improve coordination and prevent duplication.
With a combined backing of Pounds 24 million over six years, the two initiatives are regarded as failing to fulfil their potential. HEFCE acknowledged this last month with publication of its teaching and learning strategy. It said the programmes suffered from competition, duplication and lack of coordination and coherence.
The funding council confirmed this week that the initiatives will be merged into a single team that will carry out the roles and functions of the two existing teams.
However, HEFCE declined to comment on the OU's new role. TLTP is currently managed by a team from Nottingham University.
The merger would enable more collaboration across the programmes, HECFE said. It would provide a more efficient and effective service for higher education and end duplication of common elements in the schemes, a HEFCE spokesman said.
David Baume, co-director of the OU's centre for higher education practice, said his department's approach would ensure that the research programmes bring maximum benefit to the work of teachers and to the learning of students.
"We are delighted that the funding council has decided to confirm and expand our approach to coordinate two major national initiatives enhancing learning and teaching," Professor Baume said.
Both programmes aim to disseminate good practice in learning and teaching through project work at universities around the country.
OPEN UNIVERSITY FACTS
* Since the OU began in 1971, 2.5 million people have studied one or more of its courses
* The OU is the UK's largest university in terms of students: 164,000 were registered for study 1996-97. Non-UK students in the EU total 8,118; non-EU students total 14,650
* Each year OU exams are held in 4,000 venues in 90 countries.
* The OU last year was awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize for its postgraduate certificate in education programme
* Total income for 1996-97 was Pounds 216 million. Funding council grants totalled Pounds 122 million; student fees Pounds 75 million; research grants and contracts Pounds 10 million; other sources Pounds 9 million.
* With 21,000 students, the OU's business school is one of Europe's largest
* The university has more students taking music courses than all other English universities combined
* OU is developing a foundation course for medicine and is seeking partners for a networked medical school.