The Open University is in the perfect position to pick up its founding mission – as education radicals. Speaking to an academic audience at the OU’s Milton Keynes campus on Tuesday 20 February, Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks outlined the university’s academic excellence vision. He said there is a golden opportunity to reinvent connections between academics, students and the wider population.
After almost 50 years of proving ourselves, it’s time to stop looking over our shoulders.
He said: “After almost 50 years of proving ourselves, it’s time to stop looking over our shoulders. Time to stand tall and take pride in the distinctiveness that flows from our mission. Time to build a genuinely open and confident University that grows and develops with its students for the next 50 years and beyond.”
OU embraces innovation
With the advances in technology and the internet, communities of learning can be enhanced. Whereas some traditional universities might find this a threat, Peter Horrocks says, “we at the OU are an academic community that embraces innovation and disruption.”
New tools and platforms are being developed at The Open University to enhance how academics link to students and enable them to reach beyond this to new learners.
Building the OU community of the future
The Vice-Chancellor talked about how, in the founding years of the OU, the BBC partnership presented a unique way for academics to connect to their students. Through programmes such as Blue Planet 2 and Civilisations, and many others, the OU can still take a connected, networked approach – which fits with its egalitarian ethos, and today’s digital technologies:
“Our unique relationship with the BBC allows us to make students’ learning more engaging and better connected with the world outside. We can use opportunities like this to galvanise and make a difference in society; redefining our mission in a digital world.”
A proud tradition of research and scholarship to build on
Research and scholarship is enhancing the experience of our students, says Peter Horrocks, having an impact on the ground and informing our teaching:
“Take the data analytical expertise of colleagues like Enrico Motta in KMi. That led to the ground-breaking MK Smart project, a collaborative research activity which helped put our city’s technology on the global map...or the incisive research into public service leadership of Professor Jean Hartley. Based on that, she is building with colleagues an academic community of police practitioners in the Centre for Policing; a prime example of research informed teaching.”
The Vice-Chancellor also drew on examples of where scholarship has benefitted students:
“Bart Rienties pioneering work on Learning Analytics, Clem Herman’s work on scholarship and gender; bringing women back into STEM, and our award-winning OpenSTEM work, which is opening up our laboratories to those who might never have the opportunity to visit one in person.”
A modern OU, responding to today’s needs
Peter Horrocks noted that the OU’s networked academic approach fits well with the urgent needs of employment, by far the strongest motivation for OU study. He talked about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the jobs market, saying:
“The OU’s enthusiastic, wide, engaged, digital community of scholars will be the best antidote to the risks to jobs of the fourth industrial revolution.”
Inspiring academics, delivering to learners everywhere
Peter Horrocks concluded: “We can create a future where academic authors (whether central, regional, or AL), write brilliant responsive, topical curriculum, having multiple direct contacts with a wide range of students across multiple technologies, platforms and methods, both for free and for fee. And academics convening and inspiring academic communities that extend to our alumni, the employers of our students and to wider society.
"Engaged academics delivering to learners everywhere, just as our mission compels us to. That is a definition of academic excellence that can be the OU’s and no-one else’s.”
Read the full speech here. Or watch online: