Open market

Martin Bean is looking to use IT know-how gained at Microsoft to ensure the continued success of The Open University

December 4, 2008

The Open University has become the latest institution to recruit a figure from outside the higher education sector as its vice-chancellor. Microsoft executive Martin Bean, who will take over from Brenda Gourley next autumn, has never worked in higher education. Although he has written a book, Selling IT Training: A Guide to Successful Selling in the IT Learning Industry, it is not an academic tome.

As managing director of education at Microsoft, Mr Bean will bring more than 17 years' experience in the training and education marketplace to the OU, which is the UK's leading distance learning institution. "My entire career has been adjacent to education," said Mr Bean, who holds a bachelors degree in adult education from the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

As well as working at Microsoft, he has held executive management positions in IT organisations including Novell, Sylvan Learning Systems, Thomson Learning and New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. "My background in business leadership will complement the skills that already exist. I'll have a good, solid, learning curve but I'm confident in the team that is there already. The OU doesn't lack good academic leadership."

Mr Bean lives in Washington with his wife and three daughters. Asked whether there were differences between the way US and UK institutions carry out distance learning, he suggested that bigger differences existed between universities. "The OU is a world leader in terms of the quality of the experience and the scale, and that's because of investment in deep pedagogy. There are institutions that haven't thought about changing their pedagogy; they have simply taken what they were doing to the web. The OU has proved that distance learning is about more than that."

The university faced some difficult challenges in 2008, including the Government's decision to cut £100 million in funding for "second chance" students who already have degrees. The OU was the institution most affected by this decision. Mr Bean said he had been briefed and would be working with Professor Gourley on the OU's response. "The OU has always been about innovative offerings," he said.

Future opportunities in educational technology may centre around social networking sites and the new generation of internet technology, Web 2.0, he suggested.

In the US, Mr Bean has represented the IT industry on public policy issues, including the IT worker shortage and the reform of education tools to meet workforce needs. In 2004, he moderated a town hall-style "Conversation with the President" for George W. Bush, about the needs of the US technology workforce in the 21st century.

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