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OU digital access for prisons and secure hospitals “shone out” in The Guardian University Awards 2019

A project which provides digital access to study materials for students in secure environments, such as prisons and secure hospitals, has won the widening access and outreach category in the Guardian University Awards.

The award, which was presented to the OU team at the Guardian University Awards ceremony in London yesterday (10 April) was for the OU Secure Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), specifically for students in secure environments who have restricted internet access.

The Secure VLE ensures students get an experience more equivalent to those studying in the wider community and are better prepared for a successful return to society. In 2018, it offered 120 modules and 1,400 people from 150 UK prisons and secure units studied with the OU.

One of the judges, Claire Callender, Professor of Higher Education, UCL Institute of Education, University of London said:

“The project is aimed at an incredibly vulnerable or under-represented group and yet it is a group that we know from all existing research can benefit enormously from higher education and the University has some very exciting plans for the future. This project absolutely shone out both in terms of its innovation, in terms of its reach and in terms of the target group.”

Dr Steve Rycroft, Head of Learning and Teaching Environments said:

“At the OU we have a long history of supporting students who have been disadvantaged in their opportunities to access higher education. We’re delighted to have won this award for promoting social justice by providing life-changing learning opportunities as we approach our 50th birthday.”

“Nicola Hicks in the Online Student Experience team has been instrumental in managing the development of the Secure VLE alongside our talented team of IT developers, and Ruth McFarlane in the SiSE team has built a strong and effective partnership with HM Prison and Probation Service, increasing adoption of the platform and ensuring benefits for our secure learners.”

An overview of the SiSE platform can be accessed here. For more information, or to engage with the project, contact

About Author

Hannah is part of the Media Relations Team at The Open University, working with the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. With experience both agency and in-house, Hannah has worked on campaigns for a number of large corporate companies and brands, including RBS, NatWest, Travelodge, Audible, AA and the Royal Academy of Dance. She has completed a Masters in Publishing Studies from Oxford Brookes and is currently studying towards a DipHE in Computer, IT and Design. In her free time she enjoys photography, reading and going to the theatre.

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