The Higher Education Minister, Sam Gyimah – responsible for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation in England – joined an online session with eight students from his office in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Led by Associate Lecturer and Senior Manager (ALSPD) at The Open University, Dr Anne Campbell, the students spoke of their backgrounds and the reasons they chose distance learning. They told the Minister of the hard work and dedication that part-time students needed if they were to succeed, as well the extensive support they received from staff and tutors at the OU throughout their courses.
Overcoming barriers to distance learning
Mr Gyimah asked what barriers to study they had experienced – and heard that increased fees and a lack of support from employers were major challenges to students who want to earn while they learn.
Following the experience of the personalised distance tutorial, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, Professor Nick Braithwaite, demonstrated the innovative technology and research, which underpins the OU’s teaching. The Minister was able to remotely operate a microscope in a laboratory, view the OU telescope in Tenerife, and see for himself the OU’s MK-based Mars environment. This included viewing images which OU Space Science Masters students downloaded during their collaborative exploration last year.
“A fantastic institution, which provides incredible opportunities for all”
Afterwards, Mr Gyimah said:
“The Open University is such a fantastic institution and provides incredible opportunities for people of all backgrounds to access higher education. In fact, one of the first things I did as Universities Minister was to declare my support for them and the important work they do.
“It was great to catch-up with students studying at The Open University, listen to their thoughts on part-time education, hear what they would do if they had my job for the day, and find out about some of the innovative ways they are able to work remotely.”
Mr Gyimah said he hoped the session would be the start of an ongoing dialogue with OU students. He assured them that the needs of part-time students were firmly in the UK Government’s mind as it conducted its review of Post-18 Education in England.
The OU has called for a return to some form of direct Government support for part-time students, who have been hard hit by the 2012 funding changes in England.