THERE are some people who think that gaining a suitable education and qualifications is over for them when they leave school without Highers, or because they go straight into the workplace and do not go to university.
How wrong could they be, for there is a university which will take anyone from any background and which is ideal for people in work who want to get more qualifications.
Mention the Open University and you often get the reaction “well it’s not a real university and no one takes its degrees seriously” or “it’s just about tired old lecturers talking to an audience of geeks on late-night telly”.
So here’s a couple of statistics that might surprise you if that’s your view of the OU which, in terms of student numbers, is the largest university in Europe.
Right now, more than 80 per cent of FTSE 100 companies currently sponsor students on OU programmes, demonstrating that content and delivery is meeting the demands of employers. Moreover, students have given the OU in Scotland the highest rating for overall satisfaction in the National Student Survey since the survey’s inception in 2005.
By any standard, that is a remarkable achievement and one which is unsurpassed by any other Scottish or, indeed, British university.
It is no wonder that the OU in Scotland has seen a 48 per cent increase in students aged under 25 in the last five years. In the last academic year alone, more than 1,000 new students from this age group chose to study with the OU in Scotland.
The announcement by the Scottish Government this week that it will extend the Part-Time Fee Grant is therefore timely. Funding tuition fees for part-time students, earning less than £25,000, on a par with full-time students from 2013 opens up additional choices for Scotland’s school leavers.
Dr James Miller, director of the Open University in Scotland, says: “There is growing evidence that the flexible nature of OU study, designed to meet the demands of people with other commitments, is appealing to school leavers who want to combine employment in their chosen career with a qualification. The end result is an employee with a recognised qualification, several years of practical work experience and many graduate qualities beyond those gained by students opting for a campus-based experience.”
One of the most heralded “open” aspects of the OU when it was launched in the 1960s was its access policy. Most OU undergraduate degrees do not require any formal entry qualifications, allowing anyone with a passion for learning to embark on a degree course, regardless of their previous educational achievements. In an increasingly competitive higher-education market that open-access policy applies as much today to school leavers, as it does to older people in the workforce considering a return to education.
Dr Miller says: “As far as the OU is concerned, failure to achieve traditional entry qualifications is no barrier to entering and succeeding in higher education. Indeed, around 25 per cent of OU students in Scotland do not have the standard university entry qualifications. So, for pupils who do not achieve the required standard in their Highers, the Open University offers a viable opportunity to undertake their subject of choice and be supported through their qualification with individualised tutor arrangements.”
Technological advances mean that OU students have many more ways to access course material other than television. Indeed, the OU rivals Yale and Stanford with its use of the revolutionary iTunes U system.
Dr Miller added: “More remarkable perhaps for the OU is that having fulfilled its initial ambition to provide a ‘second chance’ for adults wishing to return to education, it is now becoming the university of choice for young people looking for a different university experience.”