What would surprise us about today’s Open University?
We are proudly celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, having grown into an extraordinary institution over that time. We have more than 174,000 students studying worldwide. Our student population is incredibly diverse with a 40:60 male to female ratio, ranging from the youngest graduate, at 13 years old, to our oldest who completed his degree aged 93. Around 75 per cent of current students are working while studying. Our mission and approach to social mobility are more relevant to society than ever before. As testament to this, around 55 per cent of our students in England are from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Open University is uniquely placed to help individuals, companies and governments to tackle the skills gap and maintain vital economic output, for example through our apprenticeship programme. We are also leading the way internationally. Our partnership with the Arab Open University helps to enhance access to higher education across the Middle East. Through this partnership, there are currently 25,000 students signed up to Open University validated programmes and, highly significantly, 50 per cent of these are women.
How have you made it easier to study?
Our Open Access policy means that students don’t need previous qualifications to study with us. At least a third of our students don’t have the entry qualifications that other universities would require. This opens the door for a lot of people who may have felt they never had the opportunity to further their education and achieve their potential due to whatever reason or circumstances that halted them previously. Our students study on their mobile devices and laptops whenever and wherever it suits them. Due to our innovative approach of blended learning and 24/7 access to the necessary resources, we’re an extremely popular choice for people who are looking to study while working.
What do you think makes you a leading choice for students with disabilities?
The Open University promotes equal educational opportunities and social justice by providing high-quality university education to all. We support 23,000 disabled undergraduate students - over half of all part-time undergraduate disabled students in the UK. Our course material is delivered in a variety of formats to make resources and assessments accessible, and we recently held a home degree ceremony for one of our disabled students in Scotland.
What can businesses get out of The Open University?
We offer a range of learning resources and programmes, from free OpenLearn courses to a whole range of training for employee development, as well as our higher and degree apprenticeships that focus on areas such as leadership and management, and digital skills, among others. Alongside standard courses for employee development, we can also curate bespoke solutions when needed.
We support 1,300 organisations throughout the UK with their learning and development strategies and requirements. From micro-businesses to large national employers such as IBM, BT and Unilever, we offer a single solution nationwide that most universities are unable to provide because of their limited geographic reach and classroom-based learning approach. Our focus is to understand an organisation’s particular requirement set. There is a widely publicised skills shortage within organisations around the UK and we are able to help employers overcome their skill gaps.
How can businesses “dip their toe in”?
A quick chat with one of our business experts will help to identify the best option. We have a range of free courses to test the appetite for employee learning on a particular subject and have lots of shorter training options to help organisations meet current training demands. We are constantly innovating and are particularly proud of our new two-hour course on gender equality for companies that want to increase awareness and inclusivity across their workforce.
And for companies that want to go deeper?
We can help to provide short and long-term work-based solutions for organisations that are looking to enhance their learning and development programmes. Our programmes can upskill employees to become the leaders of tomorrow or close the gaps in areas such as IT where innovation is increasing at a faster rate than many organisations can keep up with. As a distance learning provider, we offer flexible solutions that allow employees to develop while at work, minimising the time spent away from their day-to-day role and responsibilities. We can also support employers who have an apprenticeship levy pot to use or want to invest in higher and degree apprenticeships for their employees but are unsure of funding or where to begin. We currently hold a 95 per cent apprentice retention rate and more than 1,000 apprenticeships with 300 employers across our management, MBA, digital, nursing and healthcare apprenticeship programmes. We are proud to have achieved a 98 per cent employer satisfaction rating, in the Department for Education’s FE Choices Employer Satisfaction 2018 Survey, for delivering higher and degree apprenticeships. Our mission for lifelong learning and tailored courses for business specific needs has also led to 60 per cent of the FTSE 100 companies working with us to develop and upskill their workforce.
We started in 1969 as a disruptive university, and we will continue to disrupt and innovate over the next 50 years and beyond
How can The Open University help organisations to meet their diversity targets?
The open and flexible nature of our education means that we can upskill and reskill employees who may not otherwise have such opportunities, due to life circumstances such as geographical location, educational level or societal constraints. We can work with organisations to help attract and retain a talented workforce. For example, we can help to attract applicants for apprenticeships into jobs where they would traditionally be under-represented at graduate level by helping organisations to engage with schools
What is the future for The Open University?
It’s an exciting time for us as we enter our 50th year. The Open University will continue to be true to our mission to being open to all places, methods and ideas. We will increasingly work to meet the requirements of employers, especially in these uncertain political times. The university will continue to support the public sector, notably the NHS, and through our unique Centre for Policing Research. We started in 1969 as a disruptive university, and I believe we shall continue to disrupt and innovate over the next 50 years and beyond.