The Open University (OU) was set up by the Wilson government is the late 1960s with the aim of making higher education accessible to all. There is no typical OU student. People of all ages and backgrounds study with the OU, for all sorts of reasons. Here, Simon Tindall, Head of Skills and Innovation speaks about the organisation’s open admissions policy which helps thousands of people achieve their potential regardless their previous education experience or qualifications.
Many people will remember the OU from BBC broadcasts late at night, but the way learning is delivered has evolved through the years to provide education that fits around people’s busy lives. In total the OU has taught over 2.2 million students from 157 countries and currently hasover 205,000 students.
How does it help businesses?
The core DNA of the OU is to help individuals unleash their potential and that helps businesses bridge skills gaps. With business currently facing significant recruitment and skill shortage issues, the OU can help with staff attraction and retention, through improving the development opportunities available for employees. We currently work with over 2,800 employers.
The Open University prides itself on being available to all levels of learners, whether they are just looking to do a free OpenLearn course, or whether you are looking to undertake a Master’s degree. The Open University is designed to help businesses and individuals achieve a plethora of objectives, from getting employees into new roles or onboarding new staff.
The Open University is fortunate to have great scalability and we are able to offer and maintain a single service to allow training to be done by anyone, domestically or internationally, across an organisation.
What kind of learner does the OU attract?
Although the OU initially was more structured towards older adults, the median average undergraduate student age now lies at 28. The OU is a distance learning alternative to traditional brick universities for younger people, but also facilitates lifelong learning as people often come to us for an education top up and to refresh their knowledge.
The OU encourages people from all walks of life to study and takes admissions from across society, including those who don’t have prior qualifications. At OU, we have a social remit. A core flagship offering is our free learning platform, OpenLearn, where anyone is able to access over a thousand courses and 15,000 hours of educational interactives, videos and articles.
During the pandemic, we were involved in numerous skills-focused projects with governments across the UK. This has included providing an abundance of curated free skills courses, such as a portal for jobseekers working with their local Jobcentre Plus to gain new employability skills.
If an employee likes what they see on OpenLearn, what can they do?
If employees enjoy using the OpenLearn resources, we have a comprehensive offering of paid-for courses and programmes available to help them take the next step. The Open University is ideal for businesses who are struggling with challenges such as salary inflation and what has been termed as ‘The Great Resignation’. It has never been more important for employers to upskill and reskill staff to retain them. A great example of a collaboration is the OU’s partnership with Uber. In order to retain drivers on the app, Uber has offered eligible drivers, or their family members, the opportunity to study for a degree – with tuition fees paid by Uber. It’s a fantastic programme that brings OU learning to a new audience.
In addition to our traditional degree programmes, we offer higher and degree apprenticeships, short courses and micro-credentials through our co-owned FutureLearn platform, which are 10 to 12-week courses that offer upskilling quickly and effectively.
Why is the OU good at delivering for working people?
The Open University offers a fully flexible structure and learning can take place over several years on a part-time basis. The OU delivers a great service for working people as we offer flexible payment options and, in many cases, learners can take a break if needed. Our learning is predominantly delivered online which provides great flexibility for those juggling their course with work and personal commitments.
Additionally, at the OU, you can transfer credits from previous studies. Also, employees can mix and match different subjects to tailor study directly to career progression through our popular Open Degree.