11 January 2006

Today in history: First Open University degrees awarded


**Many Irish republican POWs have availed themselves of OU courses and received degrees. For example, out of only eight first class honours degrees awarded by the Open University in 1999, Patrick Magee, the 'Brighton Bomber', received one and another went to republican prisoner Mary McArdle. (Guardian). Republican involvement with OU education took off in the 80s after a period in the 70s where state sponsored education was seen in a negative light by the prisoners. (Laurence McKeown, Out of Time)

11 January 1973

The first graduates from the Open University (OU) have been awarded their degrees after two years studying from home.

Out of the 1,000 students who sat the final exams, 867 were successful.

The Open University enrolled its first students in 1971 and has since grown to become the biggest university in the country with more than 40,000 students on its books.

The idea of learning from home was designed to appeal to mature students, but from next year the OU will be opening its doors to 18-year-olds as well.

OU Vice Chancellor, Dr Walter Perry, is delighted with the progress of his students - and insists the degrees which have been awarded are on a par with the best universities in the country.

He said: "I always said the one thing we must never do is have a different standard from the standard that pertains throughout Britain.

"To give a student a second-rate degree would be dreadful. It's doing damage not doing good."

For many people, the OU is offering them a second chance to study.

Dr Perry said: "The qualities of our students are often very different, in the first place they are adult, experienced in life and jobs, not just straight out of school. They have achieved their degree by the most difficult method of getting a degree yet devised by the wit of man.

"Therefore they have qualities of determination and staying power that are quite unusual and I think will come to be recognised by industry as very important qualities for employers."

In Context

The Open University currently has 200,000 students on its books - some 26,000 of them are studying OU courses from outside the UK.

The OU continues to offer high quality teaching. Of the 23 courses assessed by the university course watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency, 17 were rated as "excellent".

There are no entry qualifications for undergraduates - but about 70% of students successfully complete their courses.

In March 2000, the OU held the UK's first online graduation ceremony. Students from as far afield as Taiwan, Finland and the United States took part.

About a quarter of current students are now doing all or part of their courses online.

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