1 9 7 1 – Current (UK)
Britain’s Open University is an innovative and highly successful distance-learning programme that utilises a variety of media, including television and online computer resources, to extend college and graduate-level education to nontraditional, non-local students.
It began transmitting on 3 January 1971 and was targeted at working adults who had not continued on to higher education. It was an immediate success with more than 40,000 people applying for 24,000 places.
The first graduates of the Open University were 903 students who received their degrees at a ceremony held at Alexandra Palace on 23 June 1973.
By 1981 it was the largest university in Britain, with 65,000 registered students taking more than 100 courses and more than 30,000 graduates ranging from a bus driver who was “a complete dunce at school” to a grandmother earning a science degree in her sixties.
Open University programmes were aired at odd corners of the schedule, heralded by the animated OU logo and fanfare – the opening of Divertimento for Three Trumpets and Three Trombones by Leonard Salzedo.
Because the Open University paid the BBC for production costs, the programmes were produced solely for use in coursework and not for wider commercial appeal. Nevertheless, some programmes were no doubt watched by incidental viewers.
Suddenly, insomniacs and early risers could watch ‘Man’s Religious Quest’, ‘Engineering Mechanics’ and ‘Solids and Fluids’ presented by a man in a kipper tie with a Zapata moustache and very long hair for years as the courses were repeated and repeated and repeated. This was because there was insufficient money to update the programmes unless the course itself was revised, and the presenters were academics rather than broadcasters.
In 2006 the late-night teaching ended, replaced by other teaching methods such as DVD and the internet. Today the Open University make programmes of general interest through a successful partnership with the BBC. Programmes such as The Money Programme and the award-winning Coast are made to inspire an interest in lifelong learning in the viewer.