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Myth-busting assumptions about OU study

At our recent ceremony in Glasgow, Acting Vice-Chancellor Mary Kellett shared her thoughts on the ways in which Open University students are often described, saying:

Let me share a small frustration I have over the words that are sometimes used to describe students like you. Conventional students are described as full-time students. And OU students like you are described as part-time students. Part-time? Part-time? More like double-time with the OU.

In doing so, she echoed the thoughts of OU student Jayne who got in touch to share some of the most de-motivating things she’s heard in the three years she’s been studying with us. As we move into our 50th anniversary year, we invite you to add to this list – let’s work together to bust every myth about the OU! Over to Jayne:

Being a student with The Open University has so far been a massively rewarding experience, and probably one of the best decisions I have ever made! However, during the past three years, I have come across many prejudices and misunderstandings of what it means to study with The Open University. I would like to share with you some examples of ‘myths’ myself and other OU students face regularly, and the reality!

1. Studying with the OU means you’re not studying at a ‘real’ university

When I first signed up to the OU, I was very reluctant to share the exciting news with peers initially. Everyone I knew had gone onto a ‘brick’ university, graduated and gone through what people see as the ‘real university experience’.  I did not know anyone who had studied with the OU, and most people I spoke to knew very little about the OU. As I’m not physically studying in a university building, sitting in lectures and meeting students/tutors face to face, people assumed that the OU wasn’t a ‘true’ university and nothing more than a ‘online hobby’! It hasn’t been until I’ve shown people around the OU website and showed them all the OU has to offer, that they have really understood what the OU is about – some even signed up themselves!

2. An OU degree doesn’t hold as much value as a degree from another organisation

Due to not physically attending university, people assume less work is involved, meaning that my degree isn’t as difficult and would not count as much in a job interview compared to a degree gained from a brick university.  People seemed to know very little about how an OU degree matches up to a ‘normal’ degree, or how it is graded etc; there have been times when myself and other students have been over the moon with a TMA (assignment) result only for it to be down played by others as not being ‘on the same level’, as well as times when we’ve not quite got what we had hoped for, but have had it shrugged off as being unimportant rather than being supported.  An OU degree is in fact worth the same amount of credits as any other degree, with work completed being scrutinised to the same level as it would be at any other university. It requires just as much time, energy, commitment and dedication as any other degree. Many employers now favour OU degrees, due to the level of self-discipline, time management and organisation required by OU study

3. OU study is ‘easy’

Studying with the OU is a fantastic way to learn and develop new skills, but I can honestly say it is far from easy!  OU modules are equally as challenging and engaging to study compared to degree level study elsewhere, with modules increasing in difficulty and depth as the degree progresses. As OU study is mostly online, people have assumed that everything is pretty much ‘spoon-fed’ and requires little effort – I’d say it’s the complete opposite! There are textbooks to read, study activities, forum discussions, assignments/exams and so much more- just like studying anywhere else! I have had many moments where as a student, I have felt completely unsupported in my studies by those around me, simply due to them undermining how difficult the work can be , and the lack of understanding towards the magnitude of what I’m trying to achieve. Students, however, are supported massively by their tutors and student support team. There have been occasions where I’ve got in a state over a looming deadline, and I could not have got through without the support of my tutors and peers! And despite not being so easy at times, OU study is massively rewarding, and the sense of achievement is unbelievable!

4. Part-time students don’t work as hard as full-timers

It is easy to make the assumption that part-time study means ‘part-time effort’.  The majority of OU students study part-time, for a variety of reasons. Many of us have full time jobs, families to care for, alongside many other commitments that we work hard to juggle every day. Part-time study is often the only route to higher education available to those who cannot afford to give up work in order to attend university, and is the only way to incorporate study into their busy lives. Like many OU students, I work full time alongside part-time study, which usually equates to around 16 hrs of study a week. I have to plan my time extremely carefully in order to ensure I keep up with the workload and will often spend any free minutes (whether it’s a work break or on a train journey) catching up on my reading or writing/typing up an essay, and there have been countless late nights studying until the early hours! I think it’s fair to say part-time students work extremely hard, considering the difficulties and responsibilities many juggle in their daily lives.

5. OU students are low achievers

Though the OU does not have any academic requirements in order to enrol onto an OU degree, this does not equate to OU students being less able. The OU does not ask for entry requirements onto their courses, in order to provide second chances to those wishing to pursue higher education, who otherwise may have not had the opportunity to do so previously. The OU aims to be accessible to all, and provides many with the opportunity to achieve more than what they believed possible. I originally decided against university at 18 as I was not confident enough in my academic ability, and following this, I later found myself almost being looked down upon as not being on the same ‘intellectual level’ by those who had attended university. Even then when signing up to the OU, I found people did not take my studies seriously, and was often questioned as to why I didn’t need any exam grades to get onto my degree, and if I chose the OU as I wasn’t academic enough to attend elsewhere (despite having more than enough grades to go to a brick university).

About Author

Paula works in the Social Media Engagement Team at The Open University. She is an experienced copywriter and content producer with a background in PR, Marcomms and Strategic Digital Communications. Paula has a BSc in Psychology and Law and in her spare time can usually be found attempting to restore bits of her very old townhouse.

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