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Leading the Way: Pioneer student Wilfred Mansbridge tells his OU story

Wilfred Mansbridge was one of the earliest to study at The Open University, starting his studies in 1971. Forty-eight years on, Wilf is as passionate about the OU as ever. At the ripe old age of 94 he told the OU how it changed him and his life for the better. 

“I went to grammar school and left at 16 once the war had started. Because of the war we had to work and didn’t have the option of further or higher education. I spent time making equipment for bombers and at 18 I went into the Air Force. I was there for 5 years, until the war ended and then I found that I needed to reskill.

Sadly, a lot of teachers were killed during the war, creating a demand. The Air Force had a programme running and I volunteered to become a teacher using a course they were offering. Three years later I passed and I was declared a school master, specialising in working with ‘difficult’ children. After some time working with ‘children in need of help’ I decided I wanted to progress with my career; however promotion required a degree.

An opportunity for an education

Although I wanted a degree, I had a family to support. I couldn’t just give up my job, so I didn’t know what to do. Then the idea of The Open University was born. Harold Wilson wanted to make it happen and part of that reasoning was for people who hadn’t got an education in the war. I didn’t feel I’d got anywhere in my first formal education so naturally I jumped at the opportunity.

I applied, and luckily for me they accepted everyone. Knowing the OU would accept me was so important, it opened-up education for me – quite frankly it was a God-send. What a wonderful institution! The OU gave me a chance to start a degree and even counted credits from my teaching qualification. I started studying in 1971 and completed in 1973; I graduated in summer 1974.

I was working for Buckinghamshire County Council at the time and they sponsored my study. As I was dealing with people – which children are just like everyone else – I wanted to know how they worked. I took to sociology and psychology as it was always part of my study and interest – not to mention essential topics when you are dealing with human beings.

Promotion followed

I found my studies really did help with my career day to day; my understanding of children – and myself – improved a great deal. This gained knowledge also gave me increased confidence.

At that point I realised I was reasonably well placed to become a head master and with that I was aiming for promotion by the end of 1974. I went on to become Deputy Head Master of a school with 800 pupils and I was thrilled.

Family support

The sterling human being in my life was my wife. She used to help me type up my work and would patiently help me after she’d done all the chores. I had 4 young children and when studying they used to occupy themselves, so I could fit study around my job, home life, their routines and marking school work too! I would study most evenings after work and sometimes on a Sunday. My wife inspired me to keep going – even when she went back to work she still helped me revise and get some peace and quiet.

Wilfred's credit certificates and degree ceremony brochure

Wilfred’s credit certificates and degree brochure

We were given text books and recommended other books, sometimes they would send you some other bits as well or you’d watch a programme on the television. I would really get into something and find myself still reading about it hours later. It was so organised that although I had the opportunity, I didn’t need to ask questions – it was absolutely great.

“I’ve really done it!”

My graduation was so exciting – I had never been to a conferment before. The scrolls were handed to me by the Vice Chancellor; I had the gown on and the beautiful blue sash. I was so proud that even though you could hire the robes I actually bought them – they were expensive, but I didn’t care! There was a big crowd at Alexandra Palace, I just thought ‘Wonderful, I’ve really done it’.

Letter inviting Wilfred Mansbridge to attend a degree ceremony

Wilfred’s original degree letter and ceremony information

My wife Elsie, came with our daughter to support me and I was very pleased with myself – in fact, I am still pleased to this day. I’ve kept all of my documents- and even my gown.  My degree launched me successfully into furthering my career. It made a big difference to myself educationally and individually.

The OU changed me quite a lot. It built my confidence in all aspects of my life. Additionally, I had a lot of influence in the school I worked in so my new-found knowledge was spread.
The OU gives you a second chance. Yes, it was hard work but I never felt like giving up. It’s all about dedication. I would truly encourage anyone to give it a go- in the end it’s worth it when you have the knowledge. If I did it, nearly anyone can.

About Author

Liz works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She has over 15 years' marketing experience working across a range of sectors, from diamonds to shampoo. She has a BSc (Hons) in Management from UMIST. In her spare time, Liz is usually found on roller skates or off travelling, having adventures.

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