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The OpenUniversity.  Responsible for some of the finest displays of bad dress sense ever, especially if you consider the maths course TV programs from the 1970's.  Sadly those days are over, as the sunday morning TV shows faded into videos, and nowadays into CD-ROM's, DVD's and online seminar thingies.  They actually do very coherent courses.

Also the only place that would offer Jumlian a PhD place to study geochemistry, so be nice to them.

As a quick plug, the geology department is a grade 5, ranking it one of the top 5 in the country.  Similarly geography is 5*, and the place is generally pretty darn good.

(So I only have to say this once, the OU PhD's are done full-time on campus as a PhD is anywhere else.  The campus is however in MiltonKeynes.  There has to be a price to pay for anything.)


I think the forming of the Open University in 1971 was about the most important step for University Access in the 21st Century. --Mjb67

- To reply to Mjb67 -  Indeed.  It is an exceptionally good thing.  Teaching on the summer schools (the only teaching postgrads get) is a very interesting experience (people of all backgrounds, ages 18-80, truly "Open to all"), and exceedingly rewarding.  OU students are a pleasure to teach, because generally they actually want to learn.  Oh yeah, some random stats: the OU reckons that at any one time it has between 180,000 and 240,000 undergraduates, making it by far the biggest UK university.  Since the introduction of fees and the spiralling of student debt, the OU student demographic is getting markedly younger and student numbers are rising, as more people decide to get a job and get a degree simultaneously.  While OU courses do cost money, they cost a darn sight less than university fees, and if you're in the forces, in prison, on disability benefit or have a nice employer, someone else will pay the OU fees.  An OU degree will take about 6 years part-time.  Given that an OU degree is done on top of a job, though, it is certainly NOT an easy option.  --Jumlian

It just seems a shame that it isn't living up to its potential.  There are several things I'd like to see.  --Vitenka

There are some problems with this.

The OU and the BBC are still doing co-productions, they're just general-audience education/entertainment things rather than tied to a particular course. The Rough Science series, for example. This actually means that they get seen by people other than students and insomniacs, too.
By dissociated I meant that the BBC studios at the OU in MiltonKeynes were moved in 2001.  The BBC no longer makes all the course info for showing on TV, most of it is done in-house for distribution on video or DVD.  Of course, that doesn't stop them doing tie-ins, as you say. --Jumlian
Discussion on the worth of TeleVision? Refactored to WhyWatchTV --Vitenka

This is true - the problem is those stuck in dead end jobs, who want out - their current employers won't pay and whilst their new employers may recognise it, they are a long way off.  --Vitenka

Can you mix and match courses how you want? -- Senji
Yes, although if you want a named degree there are restrictions - a "geology" degree requires that you have done the six field courses and have no more than 60 points outside of geoscience courses, for instance.  Otherwise you get a "degree". --Jumlian
Details of how the OU does stuff can be found [here].


It looks like this side of things has drastically improved over the last decade or two, then ;)  However, better is not best, nor, in this case, good enough.  I would also wonder how 'regional' a tutor can be - if it's not in the same town and you don't have a car, then it's not very useful.  Still, well on the way.  The thing is, a lot of people won't be comparing the three grand to the other university fees, they will continue comparing it to paying nothing and not getting any qualification.  --Vitenka

There is always room for improvement in any system, particularly if you're trying to do the non-trivial task of imparting degree-level knowledge remotely through fixed media.  Regional tutors are usually accessible by phone, fax, letter, email, online chat, or face to face every other weekend at tutorials held at a regional centre; and unless you live on an island you can usually get a train.  The OU is has, and is working on improving, use of video conferencing.  A common requirement these days is that the student has a PC (CD-ROM course notes, y'see) and preferably a dialup connection.  As regards cost, fine.  But bear in mind that 500 a year gets you a full set of textbooks and a lot of support for what is essentially not that much outlay.  If you want to learn, you'll pay, and as stated above, most OU students are very motivated.  In a few extenuated instances the government can pay as well.  The OU does however really need to advertise and shed the tweed-jacket-beard-and-kipper-tie image that it has picked up.  As a random aside, the OU does a supplement in the Independent on the first tuesday of every month, called Open Eye. --Jumlian
Agree on most points, disagree on the 'government helps in the small number' - if it is a small number, then it shouldn't be.  Really, almost every person in the country could sensibly be on a learning course of some kind.  Most aren't, and the price is a major factor.  I was actually wondering yesterday why there are no free online language courses - OpenCourseWare? is a step in the right direction but we need more htings like this.  The kipper ties are a major laughing problem, but I think they're better off with that image than, say, whales (de montford) or the daftness of the image most American institutes present.  --Vitenka
Would every person in the country want to be on a learning course? Cost is probably not the major factor: courses which don't involve lab work or summer schools aren't actually that expensive. What they do take is an awful lot of time. And some people might prefer to, you know, spend time with their families when they're not at work rather than write essays.
Given how much this current government appears to like higher education in terms of actually putting the money where its mouth is and funding it, I am surprised that there is any government help at all. (sarcasm). --Jumlian

In terms of access, actually, one of the worst things the OU can do is its current plans to make having a computer and internet access compulsory for every single course, and electronic submission of essays universal. How misguided can you get? I mean where do you start on the sheer number of problems with that idea?
I can see it as tempting, since it's certainly easier their end.  And most public libraries do offer terminals now.  But yes, it seems too soon to assume that their audience is computer literate.  --Vitenka
The OU does take the motto "open to all" very seriously.  If you're blind, the course materials are translated into braille and also supplied read out on tape, including exhaustive descriptions of the illustrations (a popular volunteer exercise for PhD students).  Examining can be quite difficult under these conditions but it is done.  The OU bends over backwards to accommodate any and all comers.  The university also did once have a scheme allowing cheap rental of (basic) computers for those who were in financial difficulty, for the course duration, although I don't know if that scheme is still in place, it's been a while and I wasn't heavily into the teaching side of things.  --Jumlian

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