Any O. U. Students Out There…?

November 15th, 2011

This post has nothing to do with hypnosis or hypnotherapy but everything to do with the cultural and intellectual climate of this country. Off-topic, yes – but important.

In 2012, students in the UK face huge increases in the costs of further and higher education. Tuition fees will rise by 300%

The Open University is also affected by this. The O. U. is set to lose about 80% of its arts and humanities funding. In 2012, the cost of courses will be more than three times the present level, rising from around £750 per course to around £2,500. The overall cost of a degree will rise from around £4,500 to £15, 000.

There are two ways of looking at this. The “upbeat” view is that Open University degrees are only half the price of residential university degrees and students can study from home, without incurring any extra living costs. Furthermore, those studying for their first degree will, for the first time, be eligible for student loans under the same conditions as other full-time students. This can therefore be seen as a wonderful opportunity for the O. U. as throngs of 6th form / college leavers descend upon it to snap up all those cheap degrees…

Meanwhile on Planet Earth the outlook seems rather different.

I have worked as an Associate Lecturer for the O. U. for about ten years. I have taught a number of classical studies courses and have seen interest in classics flourish over the years. The courses I teach attract students from all walks of life and from all sorts of educational background. In one of my tutor groups I have a Professor of Physics and a plasterer. My very first tutor group, back in 2002, contained a plumber, a lawyer, a nurse – and the Chief Executive Officer of one of the Big Four UK supermarkets!

All this will now change. The upsurge of interest in classical studies (and many other arts and humanities subjects such as philosophy, anthropology, modern languages etc etc) will be thrown into reverse. From now on the focus will be on degree courses rather than individual modules. But people who work full-time may not be able to commit themselves for years into the future. Whereas before students could simply take things a module at a time, now they will have to take at least one course a year or risk losing eligibility for student loans. Many mature classics students already have degrees in other areas, and these students will not be eligible for student loans. Will these students be prepared to pay triple the amount for courses in the middle of an economic recession? I don’t think so.

And the idea that school leavers will flock to the O. U. is pure fantasy. Wealthier undergrads will rely upon parental support – £9,000 per year is, I imagine, close to the annual fee for private or public school education. Other students will seek cheaper alternatives, either in the UK or abroad. Or they will give up on the idea of a university education and seek professional, technical or vocational training of one sort or another. The outlook for classics and other arts and humanities subjects within the Open University looks very bleak indeed.

If you feel as uncomfortable about this as I do, if you feel that the O. U. is a unique and special institution whose existence is essential to the cultural well-being of this country then you might like to consider signing one or both of the following petitions:

and / or

The Open University is being forced to play a role it was never meant to fulfil. It was never designed to compete with other “brick” universities but rather to offer an alternative which was accessible to anyone who wanted to aim for something higher. It has been one of this country’s biggest success stories. Those of us who work for it are proud to do so. Students who graduate from it are proud to have degrees which are fully equal to those of any other university, and better than many.

In the short term, the Open University will be damaged by the forthcoming changes. Let us hope that this damage is not long-lasting or permanent. For education is the soil from which prosperity springs.

Do sign the petitions. It will only take a minute of your time…

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