The Open University has seen a rise in its student numbers over the past year, as the pandemic means more people are choosing to study online with the OU.
The University cites the impact of Covid-19 as the main driver of the increase; it has significantly increased the demand for upskilling and reskilling and has emphasised the attractiveness of high-quality distance learning.
In terms of actual student numbers, the total number of all students for 2020/21 is up 15% on last year to over 163,000 (including Undergraduates, Postgraduates, and Apprenticeships, but excluding validated degrees).
The total number of new students registering with the OU in the past year is over 59,000, compared to nearly 47,000 in 2019/20, an increase of 25%.
The OU has seen growth in numbers in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland too, as the only UK university that operates in all four nations. There’s also been an increase in people enrolling with the University to study full-time, seen in the 2020/21 intake.
However, the OU says the total number of new undergraduate students in England is still 40% lower than the highpoint of 2010/11, prior to the change in funding.
Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tim Blackman said:
“We are both pleased and optimistic at this growth, which shows students continuing to make a clear choice to study with the OU, with many opting to begin their studies full-time with us, in what has been an incredibly challenging year for society globally.
“Given the impact of the pandemic we are not complacent about this rise in numbers and are very conscious that many of our students are beginning their courses in a more challenging and unpredictable environment. Many juggle work, caring responsibilities, and family commitments as they begin their study.
“We are acutely aware that the cost of part-time study in England means many people are still losing out and face a barrier to their aspirations and ambitions to learn and improve their career prospects. With uncertainty in the economy set to continue into 2021 and beyond, we also know that many people will be facing a need to upskill or reskill in a way that is affordable and flexible.
“We continue to press our case with the UK Government for policy change in England that invests in lifelong learning. That includes extending maintenance loans to all part-time distance learners in England, who are currently denied the same support as students who study part-time but face-to-face.”
Among the OU’s new starters in October 2020 has been Marnie Coxall, an 18-year-old from Kent, who has begun studying for a HE Certificate in Psychology. Her sights are set on becoming a lawyer, and while the pandemic has thrown the world upside down for many students, this 18-year-old is not letting that stop her.
“This was the only university I was confident that I would be able to study at this year. It meant I could stay at home and do my studies in a way I wanted to do them and work out a way in which I want to study.”
Marnie explained that distance and independent learning had been what first attracted her to the OU when she first thought of applying, but then became a necessity.
Jezanne Sahota, aged 19 from Berkshire is also a new student this academic year and she is studying part-time towards a Bachelor’s in Healthcare and Health Science.
“I work for a life science company in a department called medical governance and to progress it was obvious to me that I needed a credible qualification in the science sector.
“The Healthcare and Health Science qualification at the OU was the perfect match for me to get this.”
With the flexibility to allow her to continue working full-time, Jezanne is able to achieve a valuable qualification, whilst progressing her career. She is also the first member of her family to go to university and says that her family and friends are proud of her endeavours and are a great support network.