The Open University: A Leading Provider of Distance Education

1. Introduction

Nowadays, the Open University (OU) is one of the most popular educational establishments in the world. More than two million students from 170 countries have taken OU courses (The Open University, n.d.). The university has a variety of facilities and programs for their students.

The main feature of the OU is that it provides distance education. It means that students can study at any time and place which is comfortable for them without attending traditional face-to-face classes. The university offers a great number of undergraduate and postgraduate programs as well as continuing professional development courses. The Open University also has special support services for disabled students, flexible learning options, and technical support.

In this essay, I would like to explore the OU in detail and answer the following questions: What is the history of the OU? What are its key features? How does it differ from traditional universities? What are its advantages and disadvantages?

2. The Open University in the United Kingdom
2.1 History

The Open University was founded in 1969 with the mission to be «open to people, places, methods and ideas» (The Open University, n.d.). Before that, higher education in the United Kingdom was available only to a small number of people who could afford to attend traditional universities and had enough free time to do so. Most of the population had no access to universities due to financial or family reasons or because they needed to work full-time. The British government saw that there was a need for a new type of university which would be more accessible and flexible. As a result, the Open University was created with the purpose of giving «all those who wanted to study an opportunity to do so whatever their circumstances» (The Open University, n.d.).

The first Vice-Chancellor of the OU was Walter Perry who played a significant role in its foundation (The Open University, n.d.). The OU became operational in 1971 with more than 600 tutors recruited from British universities (The Open University, n.d.). By 1974, there were already more than 70,000 students enrolled in OU courses (The Open University, n.d.). In 1975, the first students graduated from the university (The Open University, n.d.). Nowadays, the OU is one of Britain’s largest universities with over 170,000 students enrolled each year (The Open University, n.d.).

2. 2 Curriculum

One of the key features of the OU is that it offers a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate programs as well as continuing professional development courses (CPD). The majority of programs are delivered through distance learning which gives students flexibility and choice over when and where they study (The Open University, n.d.). There is also a limited number of face-to-face courses offered by some departments (The Open University, n.d.).

Most OU courses are credit-rated which means that they are broken down into smaller units called credits (The Open University, n.d.). One credit represents 10 hours of study time which includes contact hours with tutors as well as independent study time (The Open University, n.d.). For example, an average undergraduate degree at the OU comprises 360 credits while a postgraduate degree comprises 180 credits (The Open University, n.d.).

2. 3 Programs and qualifications

The OU offers a great variety of undergraduate and postgraduate programs in different subjects such as Arts, Business and Law, Education, Health, Science, Social Sciences, and Technology (The Open University, n.d.).

Undergraduate programs:
– Bachelor of Arts (BA)
– Bachelor of Laws (LLB)
– Bachelor of Science (BSc)
– Foundation degree
– Higher National Diploma (HND)
– Higher National Certificate (HNC)

Postgraduate programs:
– Master of Arts (MA)
– Master of Business Administration (MBA)
– Master of Education (MEd)
– Master of Laws (LLM)
– Master of Science (MSc)

CPD courses:
– Professional development courses
– Short online courses
– OpenLearn courses

2. 4 Rankings

The OU is consistently ranked among the world’s top universities for distance education (The Open University, n.d.). In 2019, it was ranked #1 in the United Kingdom and #9 in the world for distance education by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (The Open University, n.d.). In 2020, the OU was ranked #2 in Europe and #11 in the world for online and distance learning by the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings (The Open University, n.d.). These rankings show that the OU is one of the leading providers of distance education in the world.

3. The Open University and distance education

3.1 The Open University and disabled students
One of the advantages of the OU is that it provides flexible learning options for disabled students. The university has a dedicated Disability Advice Service which offers advice and support to disabled students on a range of issues such as funding, study skills, technology, and access to facilities (The Open University, n.d.). The service also provides advice to staff on how to support disabled students (The Open University, n.d.). In addition, the OU has a team of Disability Learning Support Officers who provide one-to-one support to disabled students enrolled in OU courses (The Open University, n.d.). This shows that the university is committed to providing an inclusive learning environment for all its students.

3. 2 The Open University and conflict resolution

Another advantage of the OU is that it can help to resolve conflicts between employees and employers. The university offers a range of CPD courses on conflict resolution which can help employees to develop the skills they need to deal with difficult situations at work (The Open University, n.d.). These courses can also help employers to create a more positive work environment and prevent disputes from escalating into full-blown conflict (The Open University, n.d.). As a result, this can help to improve productivity and reduce absenteeism from work. This shows that the OU can play a valuable role in conflict resolution. 4. Learning styles and the Open University 4.1 Organizational structure of the Open University
One of the advantages of the OU is that it is organized in a way which supports different learning styles. The university has a decentralized structure with regional offices located around the world (The Open University, n.d.). This allows students to study at a location which is convenient for them. In addition, the OU has a team of advisers who are available to provide support and advice to students by phone, email, or online chat (The Open University, n.d.). This shows that the university is flexible and able to cater to the needs of different types of learners.

4. 2 Technology of the Open University

Another advantage of the OU is that it uses technology to support distance learning. The university has an online learning platform called OU Anywhere which gives students access to their course materials, tutors, and other students (The Open University, n.d.). In addition, the OU offers a mobile app which allows students to study on the go (The Open University, n.d.). This shows that the university is committed to using technology to improve the learning experience for its students. 5. Critical evaluation of the Open University 5.1 Program evaluation of the Open University
The OU has been evaluated by several organizations and has consistently received high ratings. In 2019, the OU was ranked #1 in the United Kingdom and #9 in the world for distance education by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (The Open University, n.d.). In 2020, the OU was ranked #2 in Europe and #11 in the world for online and distance learning by the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings (The Open University, n.d.). These rankings show that the OU is one of the leading providers of distance education in the world.

5. 2 Technical support of the Open University students

One of the advantages of the OU is that it provides technical support for its students. The university has a team of advisers who are available to provide support and advice to students by phone, email, or online chat (The Open University, n.d.). In addition, the OU has a dedicated Disability Advice Service which offers advice and support to disabled students on a range of issues such as funding, study skills, technology, and access to facilities (The Open University, n.d.). This shows that the university is committed to providing an inclusive learning environment for all its students.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, the Open University is a leading provider of distance education which offers a variety of facilities and programs for its students. The university has a decentralized structure which allows students to study at a location which is convenient for them. In addition, the OU uses technology to support distance learning and provides technical support for its students. The OU is also committed to providing an inclusive learning environment for all its students.

FAQ

The Open University in the United Kingdom is chosen by students for a variety of reasons including its flexible study options, affordable tuition, and high-quality academics.

The Open University is unique among other universities in the United Kingdom as it offers students the ability to study entirely online or through a mix of online and offline methods. This makes it an ideal choice for students who need or prefer more flexibility in their studies. Additionally, The Open University has a strong reputation for academic excellence despite its relatively low tuition rates.

Students who choose to study at The Open University can expect to gain independence and self-motivation, as well as excellent time management skills. The university also provides opportunities for personal development and growth through its many extracurricular activities and clubs.