Somebody once remarked that two of the most powerful educational forces of the 20th century in the UK were Penguin books (I can still remember the money burning a whole in my pocket as I went into Lears in Cardiff and bought my copy of ‘Introducing Biology’), and the OU. As somebody who occasionally stumbled on these odd looking people (who didn’t look like my parents) early on a Sunday morning, the sense of evident pleasure in learning was obvious even at some ungodly hour. ‘Video’ as we now call it, worked. And for some of us the fire was lit.
From the THE
The institution’s latest accounts, which were published recently, show that it ran up a £7.2 million deficit in 2014–15, on the back of a £16.9 million shortfall the year before.
This came as the total number of students signed up for OU courses fell by 13,449 (7.2 per cent) year-on-year, to 173,889. From a high of 260,119 learners in 2009–10, the OU has now shed a third of its enrolment in the space of six years.
Mike Boxall, a higher education specialist at PA Consulting Group, said that the OU had been squeezed by a “double whammy” of the “catastrophe” in the part-time and postgraduate sectors, and the entry of other universities into the online learning marketplace.
“They have been hit by a market shift and competition for their core base,” Mr Boxall said. “It is quite challenging for them to stand back and say ‘how do we reposition ourselves against these trends’.”
Mr Boxall said that the gradual erosion of the three-year residential degree as the dominant model of higher education could “play to [the OU’s] strengths”, but warned that the university’s progress in this area was “not very visible yet”.