Open University

The Open University is a public research university and the largest university in the UK for undergraduate education. The majority of the OU's undergraduate students are based in the United Kingdom and principally study off-campus; many of its courses can also be studied anywhere in the world. There are also a number of full-time postgraduate research students based on the 48-hectare university campus in Milton Keynes, where they use the OU facilities for research, as well as more than 1,000 members of academic and research staff and over 2,500 administrative, operational and support staff.
The OU was established in 1969 and used the original television studios and editing facilities at Alexandra Palace, in north London, which had been recently vacated by the BBC. The first students enrolled in January 1971. The university administration is based at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, but has administration centres in other parts of the United Kingdom. It also has a presence in other European countries. The university awards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, as well as non-degree qualifications such as diplomas and certificates or continuing education units.
With more than 174,000 students enrolled, including around 31% of new undergraduates aged under 25 and more than 7,400 overseas students, it is the largest academic institution in the United Kingdom by student number, and qualifies as one of the world's largest universities. Since it was founded, more than 2 million students have studied its courses.
The Open University is one of only three United Kingdom higher education institutions to gain accreditation in the United States of America by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an institutional accrediting agency, recognized by the United States Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The BSc Computing and IT course is accredited by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT and quality assured by the European Quality Assurance Network for Informatics Education. The OU won the Teaching Excellence and Digital Innovation categories in The Guardian University Awards 2018.


The Open University was founded by the Labour government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Wilson was a strong advocate, using the vision of Michael Young. Planning commenced in 1965 under Minister of State for Education Jennie Lee, who established a model for the OU as one of widening access to the highest standards of scholarship in higher education, and set up a planning committee consisting of university vice-chancellors, educationalists and television broadcasters, chaired by Sir Peter Venables. The British Broadcasting Corporation Assistant Director of Engineering at the time James Redmond, had obtained most of his qualifications at night school, and his natural enthusiasm for the project did much to overcome the technical difficulties of using television to broadcast teaching programmes.
Wilson envisioned The Open University as a major marker in the Labour Party's commitment to modernising British society. He believed that it would help build a more competitive economy while also promoting greater equality of opportunity and social mobility. The planned utilisation of television and radio to broadcast its courses was also supposed to link The Open University to the technological revolution underway, which Wilson saw as a major ally of his modernization schemes. However, from the start Lee encountered widespread scepticism and even opposition from within and without the Labour Party, including senior officials in the DES; her departmental head Anthony Crosland; the Treasury; Ministerial colleagues, such as Richard Crossman; and commercial broadcasters. The Open University was realized due to Lee's unflagging determination and tenacity in 1965–67, the steadfast support from Wilson, and the fact that the anticipated costs, as reported to Lee and Wilson by Arnold Goodman, seemed very modest. By the time the actual, much higher costs became apparent, it was too late to scrap the fledgling open university. The university was granted a Royal Charter by the Privy Council on 23 April 1969.

Organisation and administration


The majority of staff are part-time Associate Lecturers and, as of the 2009–10 academic year, almost 8,000 work for the OU. There are also 1,286 salaried academic employees who are research active and responsible for the production and presentation of teaching materials, 1,931 who are academic-related and 1,902 support staff. Salaries are the OU's main cost—over £275 million for the 2009–2010 academic year. In 2010 the OU became one of the Sunday Times Best Places to Work in the Public Sector.

Credit union

Open University Employees Credit Union Limited is a savings and loans co-operative established by the University for staff in 1994. A member of the Association of British Credit Unions Limited, it is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the PRA. Ultimately, like the banks and building societies, members’ savings are protected against business failure by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

Academic divisions


In 2016, the university reorganised its departments and now operates with the Faculties of Arts & Social Sciences; The Open University Business School ; The Open University Law School; Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Access ; Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies ; Institute of Educational Technology ; Knowledge Media Institute.

Business school

In 1982, Open University offered a course titled, "The Effective Manager", developed by a team that was led by Charles Handy. After the reported success of the course, Derek S. Pugh proposed the establishment of a business school. In 1988, the Open University Business School was founded by the Faculty of Management department, for which professor Andrew Thomson was appointed to head. Thomson's main goal was the offering of an MBA programme, which was eventually funded through a grant from the Department of Education and Science. In 1989, the first class of MBA students were enrolled.
The Open University Business school is accredited by the international accrediting bodies AACSB, AMBA, and EQUIS. It was placed in the top 1% of UK business schools after having received triple-accreditation.
The OU Business School's MBA programme was ranked 13th in the Financial Times’ global rankings of online and distance learning MBA providers which featured five European schools, four of which were in the UK.

Singapore Institute of Management Open University Centre

From 1992 to 2005, the Singapore Institute of Management ran the Open University Degree Programme, in collaboration with The Open University, United Kingdom. which was re-named the Singapore Institute of Management's Open University Centre as one of SIM's autonomous entity. In 2005, after SIM formed SIM University, it took over SIM-OUC students and granted those who graduated in 2006 a choice between a UniSIM or OUUK degree.

Academic profile

Teaching methods

The OU uses a variety of methods for teaching, including written and audio materials, the Internet, disc-based software and television programmes on DVD. Course-based television broadcasts by the BBC, which started on 3 January 1971, ceased on 15 December 2006. Materials comprise originally authored work by in-house and external academic contributors, and from third-party materials licensed for use by OU students. For most modules, students are supported by tutors who provide feedback on their work and are generally available to them at face-to-face tutorials, by telephone, and/or on the Internet. A number of short courses worth ten credits are now available that do not have an assigned tutor but offer an online conferencing service where help and advice is offered through conferencing "Moderators".
Some modules have mandatory day schools. Nevertheless, it is possible to be excused on the basis of ill-health and many courses have no mandatory face-to-face component. Similarly, some modules have traditionally offered week-long summer schools offering an opportunity for students to remove themselves from the general distractions of their life and focus on their study for a short time.
Over the past ten years the university has adopted a policy of separating residential modules from distance-full-time taught modules. Exemption from attendance at residential schools, always as an Alternative Learning Experience, is sometimes available for disabled students and others who find it impossible to attend in person
For many years the OU produced television and radio programmes aimed at bringing learning to a wider audience. In its early years most of these were in the form of documentaries or filmed lectures. Latterly, most OU-associated programming was mainstream and broadcast in peak hours, including series such as Rough Science and "Battle of the Geeks", while older-style programming was carried in the BBC Learning Zone.
In 2004 the OU announced it was to stop its late-night programmes on BBC Two, and the last programme was broadcast at 5.30am on 16 December 2006. The OU now plans to focus on semi-academic television programmes, such as many now broadcast on BBC Four.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education review published in December 2015 found five areas of good practice and made three recommendations for improvement. The English national survey of student satisfaction has twice put the Open University in first place.
In October 2006, the OU joined the Open educational resources movement with the launch of OpenLearn. A growing selection of current and past distance learning course materials will be released for free access, including downloadable versions for educators to modify, plus free collaborative learning-support tools.
In the early 2000s, the OU researched the use of virtual worlds in teaching and learning, and had two main islands in Second Life. In May 2009 these regions formed the basis of a case study by Linden Lab, the company which owns Second Life.
In mid-2010, the university led the list of contributing universities in the number of downloads of its material from the educational resources site iTunes U, with downloads of over 20 million. Open University continues to adopt Moodle as the Virtual Learning Environment with their own team deploying custom plugins.
In 2013, the OU began a Massive open online course platform called FutureLearn, which is now the UK's largest provider of free online courses.

Assessment methods

Open University modules are often assessed using an equal weighting of examinations and coursework. The coursework component normally takes the form of between two and seven tutor marked assignments and, occasionally, may also include up to six multiple-choice or "missing word" 10-question interactive computer marked assignments. The examinable component is usually an invigilated three-hour paper regardless of the size of the module, but an increasing number of modules instead have an EMA which is similar to a TMA, in that it is completed at home, but is regarded as an exam for grading purposes.
Modules results are sometimes issued on a graded basis, consisting of pass grades 1, 2, 3 & 4, and fail. This grade is calculated as the lower of the overall continuous assessment score and overall examination score.
These grades can be weighted according to their level, and combined to calculate the classification of a degree. An undergraduate degree will weight level 3 modules twice as much as level 2, and in postgraduate programmes all M level modules are equally weighted.



Open University modules have associated with them a number of Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme credits – usually 30 or 60 – depending on the quantity of the material in the module and a level corresponding to the complexity, with 120 credits roughly equating to the year of study for a full-time student.
The OU offers a large number of undergraduate qualifications, including certificates, diplomas, and bachelor's degrees, based on both level and quantity of study. An OU undergraduate degree requires 300 CATS credits.
Students are generally advised not to undertake more than 60 credits per year, meaning that an undergraduate degree will take typically six years to complete. With the exception of some degrees in fast moving areas there is generally no limit on the time which a student may take. Students need special permission to take more than 120 credits at any time; such permission is not usually granted.
Originally the BA was the only undergraduate degree, and it was unnamed. The modern OU grants degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Science, Laws and Engineering ; the BA and BSc may be named or unnamed degrees.
Many OU faculties have now introduced short modules worth ten credits. Most of these modules are taught online, and start at regular intervals throughout the year. They typically provide an introduction to a broader subject over a period of ten weeks, these are generally timed during vacations at conventional universities in order to take advantage of their facilities. Some science modules, which require only home study, are complemented by residential courses, in order to allow the student to gain practical laboratory experience in that field; typically, an award of degree or diploma will require completion of both.
Different modules are run at different times of the year, but, typically, a 30 or 60 credit module will run either from October to June or from February to October. Assessment is by both continual assessment and, for most, a final examination or, on some modules, a major assignment.
As well as degrees in named subject, the Open University also grants "Open" Bachelor's degrees where the syllabus is designed by the students by combining any number of Open University modules up to 300 credits for an Open degree and 360 credits for an Open honours degree – the main restriction on which courses can be included is that there must be at least 60 at level 3 for the "ordinary degree" and 120 at level 3 for honours and in both cases no more than 120 at level 1. The Open degree may be awarded as a Bachelor of Arts Open or a Bachelor of Science Open either with or without honours. Without honours, at least 150 credits at level 1 and above and 60 credits at level 2 and above are required in the field, either art or science, for the Open degree to carry that name. For a degree with honours, no more than 120 credits at level 1, 120 credits at level 2 and above and 120 credits at level 3 and above are required.
Other qualifications
The Open University grants undergraduate Certificates typically awarded after 60 completed credits at Level 1 or Level 3, Diplomas after 120 credits – typically 60 credits at Level 2 and 60 credits at Level 3. Open University also awards Foundation degrees.
OU also offers a limited number of CertHE and DipHE.


The Open University provides the opportunity to study for a PhD on a part-time distance, or a full-time basis in a wide range of disciplines as well as an EdD for professionals in education. Since 2019 the Open University has also offered a professional doctorate for healthcare workers. The university offers a range of Master's levels modules such as the MBA and MPA, MSc, MA and MEd, and MRes, and a number of postgraduate diplomas and certificates including innovative practice-based modules and postgraduate computing qualifications for professionals. Postgraduate certificates are awarded for 60 credits of study on specified modules; postgraduate diplomas are awarded for 120 credits of study on specified modules. The university offers "Advanced Diplomas" that involve 60 credits at undergraduate level and 60 credits at postgraduate level – these are designed as "bridges" between undergraduate and postgraduate study.

Degree ceremonies

Unlike most United Kingdom universities, degree ceremonies at the Open University are not graduation ceremonies as such —although honours degrees are also normally conferred on these occasions. The Open University degree ceremony is officially known as a "Presentation of Graduates" at which those who have already had a degree bestowed on them are presented to the University Chancellor or his/her representative. Open University graduates normally graduate at a joint meeting of the university's council and senate which takes place at a meeting entirely separate from the degree ceremony.
The university's degree ceremonies occur throughout the year at various prestigious auditorium venues located throughout the United Kingdom, plus one each in Ireland and Continental Western Europe. In the year 2010 the OU held 26 degree ceremonies including Dublin, Manchester, Glasgow, Ely and Versailles. These ceremonies are presided over by a senior academic at Pro-Vice-Chancellor level or higher, and have the normal formal rituals associated with a graduation ceremony, including academic dress, procession and university mace.
In year 2000, the Open University was the first to host an online "virtual" graduation ceremony in the United Kingdom together with an audience at the OU's campus in Milton Keynes. Twenty-six students in eight countries, from the United States of America to Hong Kong, were presented for their master's degrees in the online graduation, including, from the Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyTim Berners-Lee, one of the founders of the World Wide Web, on whom was conferred an honorary doctorate.


Like other UK universities, the OU actively engages in research. The OU's Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute has become particularly well known to the public through its involvement in space missions. In October 2006, the Cassini-Huygens mission including 15 people from the OU received the 2006 "Laurels for Team Achievement Award" from the International Academy of Astronautics. Cassini-Huygens' successful completion of its seven-year, two billion-mile journey in January 2005 to Saturn ended with Huygens landing farther away from Earth than any previous probe or craft in the history of space exploration. The first instrument to touch Saturn's moon Titan was the Surface Science Package containing nine sensors to investigate the physical properties of Titan's surface. It was built by a team at the OU led by Professor John Zarnecki.
The OU employs over 500 people engaged in research in over 25 areas, and there are over 1,200 research students. It spends approximately £20 million each year on research, around £6 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the remainder from external funders.
The Open University also runs the Open Research Online website. ORO is a collection of over 40,000 open access research outputs across a broad range of research areas.
Scientists from The Open University are supporting one of a series of ground-breaking missions by NASA to go back to the Moon. It is a prime example of the world-leading lunar research carried out by OU academics, which includes researching methods that may help build future habitats. The OU has teamed with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre to develop an instrument called PITMS to monitor the very thin atmosphere near the surface of the Moon. The instrument will be carried to the Moon in 2021 by a commercially provided lander, under NASA's Artemis program.


In the 2015–16 academic year, there were 174,739 enrolled students.


Enrollment numbers show a tremendous difference from 2009-2010 to 2016-2017.
Most students were from England, while 14,903 were from Scotland, 6,668 from Wales, 3,667 from Northern Ireland and 4,900 from elsewhere in the European Union, plus others elsewhere. 60% of undergraduates were female, with 53% of those taking postgraduate modules being male. 22,664 of students in 2015–16 had declared disabilities.
According to the Guardian the fall in the number of part-time students was accelerated in 2012 when tuition fees rose and there was limited financial support for part-time students. The Open University saw a 30% drop of part-time students from 2010–11 and 2015-16.
While most of those studying are mature students, an increasingly large proportion of new undergraduates are aged between 17 and 25, to the extent that the OU now has more students in this age range than any other UK university.
In the 2003–2004 academic year around 20% of new undergraduates were under 25, up from 12.5% in 1996–1997. In 2010 approximately 55% of those under 25 were also in full-time employment. In 2010, 29,000 undergraduates were in this age range. By 2011, 32,000 undergraduates were under 25 years old, representing around 25% of new students. The majority of students in the 2015–16 academic year were aged between 25 and 34 years old, with the median age of new undergraduates being 28.
As of 2014, the OU's youngest graduate was a fifteen-year-old boy from Wales who gained a BSc First Class Honours in 2014.
The OU works with some schools to introduce A-Level students to OU study and in 2009–10 3% of undergraduates were under 18 years old.


Unlike other universities, where students register for a programme, OU students register separately for individual modules. These modules may then be linked into degree programmes.
During the 2009–10 academic year social studies was the most popular study area, followed by biological and physical sciences and historical and philosophical studies ; student numbers even on smaller undergraduate programmes, such as creative arts and design are still significant as are postgraduate registrations on programmes such as mass communications and documentation.
The most popular module during 2009–10 was DD101 An introduction to the social sciences, followed by AA100 The Arts Past and Present, B120 An Introduction to Business Studies, K101 An Introduction to Health and Social Care and Y163 Starting with Psychology.

Fees and financial assistance

17,634 students received financial assistance towards their study in 2015–16. The typical cost for United Kingdom-based students of a Bachelor's honours degree at the OU was between £3,780 and £5,130 in 2009–10. From September 2012 the Government reduced its funding for all students residing in England and fees went up to compensate. English students pay higher fees than those living in the rest of the United Kingdom. The average cost of one full-time year or 120 credits rose to £5,000, bringing the cost of an average Bachelor's honours degree for an English student to £15,000.. The most important revenue stream to the Open University is now academic fees paid by the students, which totalled about £157 million in 2009–10 and £248 million in 2015–16.

Qualifications awarded

The university enrolled fewer than 50,000 students in the 1970–71 academic year, but it quickly exceeded that number by 1974–75. By 1987–88 yearly enrollment had doubled to 100,000 students, passing 200,000 by 2001–02 and 250,000 in 2009–10. Numbers fell when the fee regime changed.
Cumulatively, by the end of 2009–10 the OU had educated more than 1.5 million students and awarded 819,564 qualifications after successful assessment.
In addition, the Open University provides certification for qualifications at Ruskin College in Oxford and Richmond, the American International University in London, a private liberal arts institution..

Open University Students Association

The Open University Students Association is the equivalent of a students' union for the Open University, and is a registered charity wholly funded by the Open University. The association is governed by a Board of Trustees and a Central Executive Committee. Each student registered with the OU automatically becomes part of the Students Association unless they elect to formally opt out. It offers opportunities to meet up, volunteer, find information and access services to support learning.

Notable current and former academics

The OU has over two million alumni, including:
The Open University has been featured in many films and television programmes. The plot of Educating Rita surrounds the working-class titular character aiming to "improve" herself by studying English literature. She attends private tutorials run by alcoholic lecturer Frank.
Television characters have also followed OU courses. These include Anne Bryce in the BBC sit-com Ever Decreasing Circles, Yvonne Sparrow in Goodnight Sweetheart and George Bulman in Bulman, in the ITV spin-off from the series Strangers. Sheila Grant was accused of having an affair with her tutor in Brookside. Onslow, a character from Keeping up Appearances, watches Open University programming on television from time to time.
In autumn 2006, Lenny Henry was a star in Slings and Arrows, a one-off BBC television drama which he also wrote, about someone who falls in love while on an OU English Literature course.
In the 2006–07 TV series Life on Mars, Sam Tyler received messages from the real world via Open University programmes late at night.
Dorian Green from Birds of a Feather announced she had been accepted by the Open University to do a degree in psychology and began studying with the university in series 3.
In the 2016 novel Swing Time by Zadie Smith, the narrator's mother is a student of the Open University.

Partner institutions

Partner institutions are those institutions with whom the Open University has a validation agreement, allowing them to award validated Open University degrees. these are: