The Open University will develop a more holistic approach to its curriculum and recruit more students from non-governmental organisations under its new vice-chancellor Brenda Gourley, who took up her post this week.
In an interview with The THES , Professor Gourley said: "The NGO sector is the largest-growing sector in the world; I think it has something to do with the failure of democracy to deliver. Universities aren't engaging enough with the NGO sector to fulfil their educational needs. Higher education has focused on big business and corporate lawyers and the general arts and sciences.
"Arts and sciences need to come together to produce more rounded people. Problems in the real world do not divide themselves into disciplines."
Professor Gourley joined The Open University from the University of Natal in South Africa, where she oversaw its transformation from a whites-only institution. She established a series of multidisciplinary centres in leadership skills, entrepreneurship and ethics.
About a quarter of The Open University's students are from overseas, taught through partnerships with local colleges. Professor Gourley said she intended to maintain this figure.
She said: "It used to be publish or perish; now it is partner or perish. Aids has swept through not only Africa but India too. We are losing huge numbers of teachers for a start. Aids is a catastrophe of enormous proportions. In KwaZulu/Natal alone, 80,000 teachers will die in the next five to seven years. The Open University can help to train more teachers."
Professor Gourley, who has an academic background in accounting and business, said she intended to win funding for overseas work.
She said: "There are a lot of funders who know that at the heart of development is education. Getting teachers educated so that children can be educated is very much part of our business."