The Open University

A history

By Daniel Weinbren

The Open University


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9627-3
  • Pages: 416
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: November 2014
  • BIC Category: Education, Humanities / History, History, Educational administration & organization, EDUCATION / Educational Policy & Reform / General, EDUCATION / Organizations & Institutions


This historical perspective on The Open University, founded in 1969, frames its ethos (to be open to people, places, methods and ideas) within the traditions of correspondence courses, commercial television, adult education, the post-war social democratic settlement and the Cold War. A critical assessment of its engagement with teaching, assessment and support for adult learners offers an understanding as to how it came to dominate the market for part-time studies. It also indicates how, as the funding and status of higher education shifted, it became a loved brand and a model for universities around the world.

Drawing on previously ignored or unavailable records, personal testimony and recently digitised broadcast teaching materials, it recognises the importance of students to the maintenance of the university and places the development of learning and the uses of technology for education over the course of half a century within a wider social and economic perspective.


The principal strength of this account lies in the intimate way in which we are presented with not only the institution but the people to whom it meant so much. Stories and anecdotes from staff, students, media personal and government combine to give a sense of how the institution later became known as something of a national treasure. The fact that it is in essence an insider account offers a unique perspective of the ways in which this 'machine'-like structure with its mechanistic forms of production and delivery developed the capacity to offer students a uniquely personal learning experience.


Part I: Creating a university of the air
1. The challenge of The Open University
2. Opening a castle of the air

Part II:The first two decades
3. Growth and acceptance: c. 1969-89
4. Sensemaking and sociability: The first two decades of learning

Part III: The Open University since the 1990s
5. Convergence and divergence
6. Pedagogies promoting participation

Part IV: Half a century of learning
7. Open to people

Select bibliography


Daniel Weinbren is a Fellow in History at the Open University

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