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Celebrating 50 years of transforming lives

Felix Asare Donkoh Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Open University celebrations
Vincent Deguin Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Adrian and Marva Rollins Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Felix Asare Donkoh Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Open University celebrations
Vincent Deguin Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Adrian and Marva Rollins Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Felix Asare Donkoh Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Open University celebrations
Vincent Deguin Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd
Adrian and Marva Rollins Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

A note from the Vice‑Chancellor

Our Annual Report is a collection of stories, memories and highlights from this landmark year – our 50th anniversary.

And what an anniversary!

There’s been so much to celebrate: thousands of successful graduates, ground-breaking innovations in learning and teaching, and research that’s advanced the frontiers of what we know and understand.   

The vision for the OU has inspired millions. At the heart of that vision is being open to people, places, methods and ideas.

For me, being open isn't just about our values. It’s a practical commitment to learning being enriched by the diversity of experience among our students and to an education that’s life transforming.

The OU is a great University but it’s also a movement for a better world. The motto on our shield, Learn and Live, is a call to action; action in a fast-changing technological age.

We use technology to enable people to put their human abilities to better use – the ability to learn, to apply that learning and to enjoy it!

But technology brings threats too: new social divides, ethical and security concerns, and huge environmental challenges. We should and do take on these issues through our research and teaching, and by using multiple channels to promote informed action among our students and the wider public.

That’s why growth is a priority. Without growth we’ll be failing in our mission. And we can grow in a way that’s both inclusive and sustainable.

Open Fest - Tim Blackman

I am inspired by our students, for whom the OU so often transforms their lives. We do that by our wonderful staff supporting them on their journeys with their expertise and dedication, and through many incredible partnerships – with FutureLearn, the BBC, colleges and other universities, the public and private sectors, and governments in our four nations and around the world.

As the new Vice-Chancellor, I look forward to working with the whole OU community to advance the university’s mission and purpose, which are just as pioneering and relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

Finally, I’d like to thank my predecessor Professor Mary Kellett for her wonderful leadership. I’m proud to be following in her footsteps.

Tim Blackman signature

Professor Tim Blackman,

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years of opening up education to all

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students in the UK, Europe and across the rest of the world

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most popular UK university for part-time undergraduates

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overall student satisfaction in the National Students Survey – in the top twenty of all UK universities. The OU was ranked first for Assessment and Feedback

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is the average age of new OU undergraduate students

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Over 70%

of OU students are already in work, earning and learning

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largest university in the UK

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disabled people studied with us – that’s more than some universities’ total students

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people reached worldwide through BBC/OU co-productions, thanks to our unique BBC partnership

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It has been an incredibly exciting year at The Open University, as we celebrated our landmark 50th birthday, marking half a century of opening up education for all.

In five decades, we’ve empowered two million students across 157 countries to transform their lives. We’re proud to be the largest academic institution in the UK.

To celebrate these achievements and honour our 50th anniversary, we ran a full and exciting programme of #OU50 events that shined a light on the staff, students, donors and partners who have made it all possible.

Here’s to the next 50 years!

Jennie Lee Queen

50th anniversary
photography collection

A picture tells 1,000 words so, to celebrate 50 years of The Open University, we released a new, curated collection of stories from our past and present, each accompanied by a powerful image.

The OU commissioned renowned British photographer Chris Floyd to capture 10 original portraits of remarkable students from our modern-day university. Alongside these, we released 10 iconic images from the OU Archive, featuring important moments dating back to our earliest days.

Meet the 10 students featured in the collection…

Zahra Alidina Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Zahra Alidina

The UK’s youngest Law graduate got a head start on her dream of becoming a barrister

Read Zahra's Story

Felix Asare-Donkoh Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Felix Asare-Donkoh

This aircraft technician completed his OU in Wales Engineering degree while serving overseas in the army

Read Felix's Story

Karis Williamson Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Karis Williamson

The OU in Scotland has given Karis, who has congenital muscular dystrophy, a way to explore new worlds

Read Karis' Story

Steven Ryan Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Steven Ryan

A life-changing accident inspired bricklayer Steven to study Adult Nursing with the OU in Northern Ireland, while working as a health care support worker

Read Steven's Story

Hannah Sargeant Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Hannah Sargeant

As an OU planetary scientist and PhD researcher, Hannah is breaking boundaries in the traditionally male-dominated field of moon exploration

Read Hannah's Story

Adrian and Marva Rollins Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Marva and Adrian Rollins

Watching his mother study with the OU to become a head teacher inspired former professional cricketer Adrian to follow in her footsteps

Read Marva & Adrian's Story

Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski

Former prisoner Stephen has had an inspirational journey from prisoner, to OU student, to OU staff member

Read Stephen's Story

Tracy Thorpe Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Tracy Thorpe

Tracy studied for her Modern Languages degree in the middle of the ocean, while working full-time on yachts

Read Tracy's Story

Vincent Deguin Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Vincent Deguin

This OU PhD student didn’t get the best grades at school but now he’s shooting for the stars, doing pioneering research on our solar system

Read Vincent's Story

Karena Serdecka-Rhodes-Bell Open University - Copyright Chris Floyd

Karena Serdecka-Rhodes-Bell

From West End star to Associate Lecturer, Karena’s OU psychology degree opened new doors for her

Read Karena's Story

Camera icon You can view the OU Archive images and see behind the scenes with Floyd here.

BBC marks 50 years
of the OU

The BBC marked our half-centenary with an hour-long documentary titled Happy Birthday OU: 50 Years of the Open University. It captured the nostalgic journey of our groundbreaking institution from 1969 to 2019.

Comedian and actor Sir Lenny Henry, one of the OU’s best-known graduates, presented the documentary, with David Attenborough and early lecturer and presenter Anna Ford also contributing.

From former Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s idea of a ‘University of the Air’, to modern-day landmark series such as Blue Planet II, the documentary told the story of how OU distance learning has changed over the years, featuring interviews with graduates and academics from past and present.

In addition, BBC Ideas – a collection of short, digital films that aim to inspire new thinking – created: A brief history of … the university that sparked an education revolution. The four-minute film looked at the impact the OU has had on society, changing the lives of millions by making education accessible to all.


Did you know?

Since 1971 the OU has had a unique educational partnership with the BBC, collaborating on content across TV, radio and digital platforms to co-produce around 35 prime-time TV and radio series annually.


Thank you for your birthday wishes! Birthday messages came in from far and wide, including many from some very famous faces …

David Attenborough quote
Betty Quote
Brian Cox Tweet

happy birthday to us!

On 23 April, we wished ourselves a happy birthday by celebrating 50 years since Charter Day – the day on which the OU was bestowed its Royal Charter by Her Majesty, The Queen.

We celebrated Charter Day across all four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, with all kinds of activities, from brass fanfares to social media messages and a field trip counting rare flowers.

Here’s a snapshot …

around the University

Staff and guests gathered to join in the fun at the OU's main campus in Milton Keynes led by Mary Kellett, Vice-Chancellor, and Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, Chancellor. The celebrations included an obligatory cake made by OU student and professional baker, Liz Fox.

Colleagues in Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham tuned in too, and each had their own cake to cut and enjoy!

A year of #OU50 events

A 50th anniversary is so important that a single day of celebrations just would not do. Across all four nations, there have been many brilliant events peppered throughout the year.

Scroll through the stories below to see highlights from around the University …


Throughout the year we have been sharing our academic expertise far and wide, with a series of informal and fascinating knowledge-sharing sessions known as OpenTalks, supporting the OU’s mission to widen access to education for all.

Famous faces, students and world-class academics have taken part in these unique events, in celebration of our love of learning. Topics have included BBC/OU co-productions such as Blue Planet II and Inside the Foreign Office, Brexit and devolution, lessons from the French Revolution and Cyber security, among others.



Twelve OU professors gave inaugural lectures during our anniversary year with special emphasis on #OU50. Topics ranged from the evolution of the meaning of open education by Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology, to menopause in the workplace by Jo Brewis, Professor of People and Organisations.

Attended by OU staff, students and members of the public, these were an opportunity to celebrate each professor’s achievements by inviting them to focus on a significant career milestone and their ground-breaking research. You can watch the #OU50 inaugural lectures here.

The Hay Festival

The OU in Wales celebrated by taking part in the Hay Festival in May, giving a series of free pop-up OpenTalks from leading OU academics Professor Monica Grady and Dr Stephen Peake. The free 15-minute talks covered topics ranging from the solar system and life beyond Earth, to the future of education in the climate emergency.

The OU also hosted a special OU50 event as part of the main festival programme: a panel discussion on the future of education in Wales. The panel event was chaired by OU honorary graduate Marcus du Sautoy who was joined by Welsh Government Education Minister Kirsty Williams AM and OU academics Professor Martin Weller and Professor Eileen Scanlon.

Marcus du Sautoy with Welsh Government Education Minister Kirsty Williams AM and OU academics Prof Martin Weller and Prof Eileen Scanlon

‘Time to think’
collection launched

A new oral history collection titled ‘Time to Think: Open University journeys in British and Irish prisons during the years of conflict, 1972-2000’ was launched in Belfast in May.

It focuses on the educational journeys of Loyalist and Republican ex-prisoners, OU staff who tutored in the prisons or were involved in administration of study in Belfast, as well as prison education staff and OU students who worked in the prisons. The collection includes clips from reflective interviews, films and photographs telling the story of the OU’s teaching in the prisons and the creation of the collection.

Time to Think Team

International Book Festival 2019

At an OU reception at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, former OU tutor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown referred to The Open University as “one of our national treasures”.

Attended by OU partners and then-incoming OU Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Blackman, the Book Festival was home to the OU 50th Anniversary Series – a major strand of programming curated by the OU in Scotland.

Mr Brown chaired a discussion with Professor John Sexton of NYU, and other events took place with: poet and OU honorary graduate Benjamin Zephaniah; Scottish writer and OU honorary graduate Val McDermid; equal pay campaigner and former BBC China editor Carrie Gracie; prize-winning author and former OU Arts Faculty staff member Daniel Shand; and author and OU creative writing alumna Catherine Simpson.

Gordon Brown at Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019

OU hosted

To launch the ninth Pan-Commonwealth Forum (PCF9), which was to be co-hosted by the OU and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), the Canadian High Commission held a celebratory reception at Canada House in March.

The PCF9 took place from 9-12 September, during the OU’s 50th and the COL’s 30th year, and brought together more than 500 thought leaders, practitioners and policy makers under the theme ‘Innovations for Quality Education and Lifelong Learning’.

The world-leading international conference on education and technology-enabled learning was opened by Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, Chancellor, along with Ms Sarah Fountain Smith, Deputy High Commissioner, and by COL President and CEO Professor Asha Kanwar.

PCF9 Launch

Standing with

In our 50th year, The Open University’s support of Pride events taking place across the UK and Ireland has had even more resonance. With June also marking 50 years since the Stonewall riots – which led to the gay liberation movement and the Pride marches – the OU incorporated the Pride rainbow colours into the OU50 logo for the month.

The OU – fiercely proud of our social mission and role in driving inclusivity and diversity – attended Pride events in Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Nottingham, Cardiff and Milton Keynes.

As an employer and educator, diversity and inclusivity are values we cherish.

Ian Fribbance Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

I have been supported and respected throughout my gender transition. I have had help to change my records and help to avoid awkward situations in face-to-face tutorials.

Finn OU student

I know that every day I can come to work as my real, whole self, and that the OU and my wonderful colleagues respect and value my differences as much as the things we share.

Sam Dick OU staff member and Co-chair of OULGBT+ Staff Network
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Here at The Open University, we think of our students, graduates, alumni, staff and honorary graduates as one big #OUFamily.

Each one of us has a different goal, a different path and a different reason to keep going, but we are all united through the OU’s wonderful mission.

Every day, we are blown away by the inspirational, heart-warming and truly remarkable achievements of this #OUFamily. Their tales of triumph – often in the face of adversity – deserve to be shouted from the rooftops. But we usually go for Twitter instead, using #OUFamily. These are stories so worth sharing.

Nothing is more emotional and awe-inspiring than an OU degree ceremony. They give us the chance to celebrate our #OUFamily. We whoop, cheer, clap and cry happy tears – and you’ll see why.

We wish we could share more of their stories, but here are just a few of our favourites from this year …

Graduation hall

Inspirational students

Conquering challenges every day

Liz Fox, England, 35
In 2014, Liz Fox suffered a breakdown and even leaving the house became a struggle. Friends, counselling and baking helped ease her anxiety and she set up a cake-baking business. But her counselling sessions had sparked a fascination with the mind, so she embarked on an OU Psychology and Counselling degree.

She said: “Being back in academic education has helped with how I interact with others and deal with everyday life. For anyone who thinks that mental illness prevents you from living your dreams, please know that it doesn’t have to. It might just be taking you on the pathway to making those dreams come true!

Read Liz’s story

Liz Fox and Stephen Fry

I’d like to change the world in terms of the way we understand mental health.

Fun fact

Stephen Fry once tweeted about Liz’s blog, BuBakes! He’s her inspiration, and she was once lucky enough to meet him and bake him some cupcakes.

OU alumni: From child refugee to one of the most influential women in Public Affairs

Shabnam Nasimi, England, 28
At just eight years old, Shabnam and her family were forced to abandon their home to flee the Taliban regime. They came to the UK and, 10 years on, Shabnam has been named by PolicyMogul as one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Public Affairs.

Her path has been tough but she has zero regrets about choosing the OU. “It was difficult to balance work and study,” she said. “But I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t done both. I liked that I could study in my own time and have independence. Yet there was always someone willing to help and give guidance.”

Read Shabnam’s story

Shabnam Nasimi

I took my refugee status as an opportunity, not a disadvantage.

“I can be a mother, I can work and I can study. I can do anything!”

Danielle Douglas, Northern Ireland, 36
While studying accountancy, Danielle realised that it wasn’t for her, and that she actually wanted to work with children.

As a single parent, she needed a route that would fit around working and raising her daughter. Her brother – who had studied with The Open University to become a Nurse – recommended the OU.

So Danielle embarked on an NVQ level 3 in Early Years and Education and, six years later, has made her dream a reality, getting a job as a Deputy Leader for a Sure Start programme.

Danielle Douglas

The degree has now given me options of work that I may not have had otherwise!

A graduation with a difference

Iain Stephen, Scotland, 52
Iain Stephen was unable to attend his graduate ceremony last year due to his disability. But it didn’t matter, because his OU graduation ceremony came to him.

Iain has cerebral palsy and is a wheelchair user. His mobility issues mean it would have been too difficult for him to attend a ceremony elsewhere, so Susan Stewart, Director of the OU in Scotland, hand delivered Iain’s award to his supported accommodation in Elgin. The ceremony took place with his family present in the common room where he lives.

Having completed his Masters in Science, as well as two undergraduate degrees, Iain – who has been studying for more than 25 years – now hopes he can inspire others.

Read Iain’s story

Richard Lochhead MSP Iain Stephen Susan Stewart

I am honoured and I hope other people will get inspiration.

Bullied out of school with no A-levels – now her business is active in over 62 countries

Charlotte Bailey, Wales, 20
When she achieved 12 A*s in her GSCEs, it seemed that Charlotte had the world at her feet. She was on track to achieve a scholarship for Yale University but, during her A-levels, severe bullying forced her to drop out of school.

With no qualifications above GCSE level, she needed a new route. Realising that she could study with the OU, she began an Open degree focusing on education and childhood studies.

It gave Charlotte her confidence back, and she has set up her own business which is now active in over 62 countries. Now Charlotte, who won a Rising Star Award at the 2018 Womenspire Awards, hopes to inspire more young people to pursue their dreams.

You’re never too young to change the world!

“I grew up in the care system … I didn't really have a decent education”

Antony Corrigan, England, 34
Antony grew up in the care system. He underperformed at school, dropped out of a brick university, and fell into retail work, but pined for a career working with kids in care. He enrolled on an OU Psychology and Counselling degree and, this year, he graduated.

“Without a degree, nobody is willing to give you the opportunity, whereas people look at me differently now. You get more respect from people, especially when they know it's from The Open University – it makes people stop and listen.”

Antony Corrigan

Fun fact

Antony writes on Twitter as @TheCareKid



Our impact reaches far and wide

MBA graduate Tillmann Henssler is one of 33 business school graduates who has recently been honoured by AACSB International, the world’s largest business education alliance. The 2019 Class of Influential Leaders recognises people whose inspiring work serves as a model for the next generation of business leaders.

Tillmann has become a passionate international OU advocate, organising MBA alumni events in Germany.

“The OU has an excellent academic reputation in Germany,” he said. “And with its triple accreditation, it's in the top one per cent of the world’s business schools. Big employers value the MBA programme. The courses are recognised all over the world. After I completed the course, I started a new job with Pfizer. So the OU opened up a new door for me.”

Tillmann – who has had a disability since birth – is committed to raising awareness and helping to reduce unconscious bias toward persons with disabilities. He is now a sourcing manager for world-leading biopharmaceutical company Pfizer, and has successfully promoted change in the workplace to benefit persons with disabilities. His work has also been recognised by both Pfizer and The Open University’s student and alumni community.


It’s a phenomenal, life-learning experience!

Tillmann Henssler Germany, 52

Fun fact

Tillmann features in the OU’s International Open Diaries series marketing campaign launched in summer 2019.



Achievements worth celebrating

Congratulations and welcome to the 33 honorary graduates who have joined the #OUFamily this year.

From Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea and University of the People founder Shai Reshef, to singer-songwriter and violinist Sharon Corr MBE and life Peer Baroness Jean Coussins, each has been chosen because they merit special recognition for outstanding achievement in a field consistent with the OU’s values and commitments.

This year, our honorary graduates included former Prime Minister Dr Gordon Brown who was recognised for his exceptional contribution to widening access to educational opportunities globally.


It is an honour to be part of The Open University’s 50th anniversary as it celebrates its two millionth student and its now global reputation as a university committed to education for all. As one of its first tutors in the early 1970s I have followed its remarkable progress.

Dr Gordon Brown
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OU Teaching
and Research Excellence

We take great pride in our top-quality teaching, and the world-class research that underpins it.

The OU’s founding principle – that we are ‘open to people, places, methods and ideas’ – is brought to life in the way we conduct our research, teach and widen access to knowledge.

Our track record of using new and emerging technologies to make higher education accessible to more people around the world shows no signs of slowing. We remain flexible, inclusive, supportive and social, and always will.

Our world-leading research excellence informs the free open educational resources we offer to learners worldwide, feeds into the TV and radio shows we make with the BBC, and features in our modules.

Here’s a snapshot of just some of the incredible work that’s taken place this year …


Are we alone
in the universe?

£6.7 million awarded to OU to discover to explore life beyond Earth

The OU received £6.7 million from Research England this year to expand its Astrobiology research group to address fundamental questions about life beyond Earth. AstrobiologyOU will work to meet the needs of the future space sector, particularly in the area of life detection, by addressing the scientific, governance and ethical challenges associated with astrobiology.

The International Space Station

This work builds on the OU’s 50-year track record in space science in which we work closely with NASA, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and other national space agencies, universities, research centres and industries around the world. This investment allows us to expand our reach into areas such as space law, education and international development, and to take our knowledge and experience and apply it to practical challenges here on Earth.


50 years
since the Moon landings

As well as 50 years of the OU, 2019 also marked 50 years since the Apollo 11 Moon landings. The Open University celebrated this anniversary with a series of Moon-focused projects.

Partnering with NASA on new missions to the Moon

OU scientists are at the centre of international plans for new spacecraft to land in unexplored sites on the Moon and search for water vapour and ice.

An OU instrument has been selected by NASA to investigate the lunar water cycle on a 2021 mission, in collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. An OU team, led by Dr Simeon Barber, is developing a miniature laboratory that will analyse samples drilled from near the south pole by the European Space Agency on a Russian lander in 2025. As well as attracting research income in excess of £14 million, these projects mean the OU will help define the next 50 years of lunar science and exploration.

OU announced as NASA partner on mission to the-Moon

8 Days: To the Moon and Back

The OU and the BBC co-produced a drama-documentary telling the story of the Apollo 11 Moon landings through the eyes of the astronauts.

Alongside iconic stills and a small amount of familiar footage, it featured previously classified cockpit audio, original archive footage and cinematic computer-generated imagery (CGI) to follow the eight days, three hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds that astronauts were on board Apollo 11.

Living on the Moon! exhibit

In July, a team of UK scientists, led by the OU’s Dr Mahesh Anand, revealed new research into the possibility of living on the Moon.

They created a Living on the Moon! exhibit which brought together 50 years of lunar research and new cutting-edge technology that paves the way for future lunar exploration over the next 50 years. This included a 3D-printed model of a laboratory that will help establish if water can be extracted from Moon dust.

Dr Anand, with the largest piece of Moon rock in the UK

for Open Arts Objects project

The Open Arts Objects (OAO) project, funded by the OU, has been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award.

OAO has collaborated with museums and BBC’s Civilisations, utilising OU research into Art History to broadcast to 13.7 million viewers, renewing public interest in Art History and widening participation. It led to a change in museums’ educational programmes and professional practice for introducing new audiences to Art History.

The OAO project, led by Dr Leah Clark, Senior Lecturer in Art History, and hosted by the OU’s Art History department, has been shortlisted in the Knowledge Exchange/Transfer Initiative of the Year category.

Open Arts Objects video

View Open Arts Objects Video


This invaluable resource offers the public free access to a wealth of artistic, cultural and educational resources, including talks, seminars, study days, artists’ podcasts, artist interviews, curators’ talks and exhibitions.



A public engagement story-telling project called My Body My Life, created a space in which anyone could share their experiences of abortion.

Led by the OU’s Dr Lesley Hoggart, Professor of Social Policy Research and supported by Dr Victoria Newton, Senior Research Fellow, the project sought to address abortion stigma by bringing real stories of abortion into the open.

Anyone could share their experiences – positive and negative – for this multi-media travelling exhibition and website, and women’s stories were printed on items of clothing in different shapes and sizes in an effort to destigmatise abortion.

What began as OU research into women’s experiences of abortion, eventually grew into a broad public engagement project co-led by OU and the University of Oxford.

My body, my life

It aimed to enable all to speak, listen, and understand without judgement and show how easily unplanned pregnancy can become part of women’s lives. It highlighted how different women have made their decision about having an abortion.


Blue Planet

In March, Blue Planet Live aired for the first time. The latest OU/BBC co-production in the Blue Planet series celebrated marine life and assessed the state of the world’s seas.

Following marine hotspots in Mexico, Bahamas and the Great Barrier Reef, the week-long programmes captured wildlife live. They were presented by Chris Packham, Liz Bonnin and Steve Backshall.

By filming whales, sharks, turtles and the deep ocean, Blue Planet Live looked at the health of seas and checked in on how marine life is coping in the face of increasing pressure.

To accompany the series, we launched a free, downloadable booklet exploring human impacts on the ocean and what people can do to protect it.


We also incorporated Blue Planet into our 50th anniversary OpenTalks. OU marine scientists Mark Brandon and Phil Sexton – who have partnered with the BBC Blue Planet team since 2014 and have worked in oceans around the world including Antarctica, the Atlantic and the Arctic – spoke about the key issues affecting our oceans and why they are important.

The landmark Blue Planet II programmes prompted unprecedented action to protect our oceans. So far, Blue Planet II has been seen by more than three quarters of a billion people worldwide, leading to changes in policy and public behaviour.



Innovative research challenges common autism stereotypes

Dr Ilona Roth, Honorary Associate in Life, Health and Chemical Sciences, was celebrated for the impact of her research on teaching and learning at the first ever OU Research Excellence Awards in July 2018.

Her research has helped challenge common stereotypes of autism, informing initiatives to change perceptions, enhance understanding and promote action for autistic people worldwide.

Dr Roth has created a range of innovative curriculum, training and informal learning materials for those interested in autism and mental health and has enhanced the way staff teach and support students with autism.


Her research, which began in the early 2000s, has ranged from documenting atypical cognitive traits in autism to addressing autism awareness and stigma in Ethiopia. She won the 2019 Herald Higher Education Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in June.


on education

The OU has been at the forefront of educational innovation since its very beginning. Today, we are still world-leading pioneers, shaping the future of learning and continuing to make a difference every day in our four Nations and around the world.

OU Analyse tool shortlisted for THE Award

OU Analyse (OUA), an innovative tool to help OU tutors monitor whether students need extra support, has been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education (THE) Award.

This forward-thinking tool is the only one of its kind in higher education, helping track student engagement in learning and – ultimately – improving student retention.

OUA produces weekly predictions for tutors on whether individual students will submit their teacher-marked assignments and presents outcomes in a colour-coded dashboard. It has been shortlisted in the Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year category.

OUA has been extensively piloted at the OU, other universities and internationally, and is now used by more than 1,180 teachers.

The project is a joint collaboration between the Knowledge Media Institute, the Institute of Educational Technology and Data and Student Analytics.

OU Analyse team

OU in Wales trains the teachers of the future

The OU in Wales will deliver a new part-time and work-based teacher training programme to future teachers, thanks to a contract awarded to the OU by the Welsh Government.

The part-time PGCE and Employment-Based Route means student teachers will be able to maintain their existing commitments, including employment and income, whilst attaining the skills and knowledge needed to teach the new curriculum. The pilot scheme will begin in February 2020.

"Our schools want to attract the best and brightest to work with their pupils." said Louise Casella, Director of The OU in Wales. "These new programmes will help students from all parts of Wales, with a variety of experiences, to upskill or reskill and become teachers. It will open up the profession as a career path for people who want to stay in their communities and study, or continue working while they learn."

Wales teachers

I'm delighted that the OU has won this contract. They bring decades of experience in innovation, widening participation and teacher education.

Kirsty Williams Education Minister

Deputy First Minister impressed by OU in Scotland’s TELT scheme

Deputy First Minister John Swinney visited a school in Stirling to help promote the OU’s new Teachers Learning to Teach Languages (TELT) scheme, launched in partnership with Scotland’s National Centre for Languages (SCILT).

The innovative scheme simultaneously teaches primary teachers new languages, including French, Spanish, German or Mandarin, while also teaching them how to teach those languages to pupils.

The programme will link up with cultural organisations in France, Spain, Germany and China to facilitate summer schools abroad for teachers.

Susan Stewart, Director of the OU in Scotland, said: “The secret to the success of this project is its flexibility, which means that teachers can study at a time and place that suits them, and then immediately use their new skills and knowledge in the classroom.”


Initiatives like TELT, developed through The Open University’s Partnership with SCILT, help teachers bring languages to life by teaching pupils subjects in another language.

Mr Swinney MSP Cabinet Secretary for Education

Adding ZEST to schooling in Africa

At an event to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon praised the OU for “playing an increasingly important role in international development” – something that she welcomes and encourages.

She was referring to the OU’s Zambian Education School-based Training (ZEST) project, which is run by The Open University and World Vision with Scottish Government funds.

ZEST helps to improve teaching quality and learning experiences for children in primary schools in Zambia’s Central Province and has created a scalable, sustainable school-based teacher development programme.

The First Minister said: “I think that’s a great example of the work that The Open University does to promote high-quality education across the world. And, of course, it demonstrates the commitment to equality and excellence that is so fundamental to the ethos of The Open University.”

ZEST, which was awarded a £1.3m grant from the Scottish Government in 2017, will run until 2022.


Since the project began, 400 teachers from 23 schools in two districts have been reached.

New education partnership for police recruits

New police recruits can now earn while they learn and gain a degree at the same time thanks to a major new partnership between the OU and North Yorkshire Police.

The collaboration will deliver specialist education for police officers from July 2020, enhancing policing across North Yorkshire.

The OU’s Policing Organisation and Practice team was awarded the contract thanks to the OU’s expertise in ensuring that people from diverse backgrounds are supported and able to complete degree-level studies.

Study pathways will include an apprenticeship, a degree-holder entry programme, and a pre-join degree. We expect to see hundreds of students starting the training programmes each year.

Our Centre for Policing Research and Learning currently works collaboratively with 21 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), on research, learning, and putting knowledge into practice, for the benefit of society.

North Yorkshire Police

We’re delighted to be working with North Yorkshire Police. The University’s unique method of remote and face-to-face learning will enable the next generation of police officers in North Yorkshire to study – anywhere and any time – while continuing to meet their policing commitments. Student officers can immediately apply knowledge gained through their study to their day-to-day police work.

Dr Matthew Jones Director of Policing Organisation and Practice

Social justice

Social justice is at the heart of our OU mission. We promote educational opportunity and social justice to help people realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Our approach to social mobility has never been more relevant to society than it is today. The more people we can mobilise to start participating in society, the greater the difference we can make to the communities around us.


Did you know?

In 2018, the OU offered 120 modules and 1,400 people from 150 UK prisons and secure units studied with the OU.


Read more

Open to

The OU’s focus is not only on teaching individuals. We work with employers to understand their learning and development needs, so that our training can help to future-proof business success.

We work with public, private and third-sector employers to find out how we can help them address skills gaps. We look at their business challenges so that we can provide outstanding, flexible training solutions that help organisations to excel, including short courses, apprenticeships, certificates, diplomas and other qualifications.

The OU works with over 2,400 employers including BMW, Mini, NHS Professionals, IBM, Travis Perkins and many more. Our training solutions cause minimal disruption to organisations, and employees can apply their learning to their workplace immediately.

It’s a win for everyone.



Employers taking ‘grow-your-own’ approach

We released our third annual Business Barometer Report in July, monitoring the skills landscape of the UK.

The Report looks at the sectors and regions where organisations are most struggling to fill vacancies, the effects of this, and expectations for the future. Following a survey of 950 senior business leaders, the OU revealed that organisations in the UK are spending £4.4 billion a year as a result of the skills shortage, down from £6.3 billion in 2018. More than two-thirds (68%) of employers have struggled to find workers with the right skills.

David Willett, Commercial Director at the OU, said: “This falling cost doesn’t reflect a closing skills gap, but a potential shift in gear by many employers, with more than half looking to adopt a ‘grow-your-own’ approach. ‘Upskilling’ is the watchword for business in 2019.”

NEWS Business Barometer 2019 report

The Report attracted much media attention, including from BBC News, City AM and The Scotsman. Our nations had their own, tailored results and marketing around the Report.

Overall, organisations spent 33 per cent more on recruitment fees to attract talent, while 53 per cent of organisations increased their training budgets, and 38 per cent increased salaries to make roles more attractive.

David added: “It’s encouraging that employers are looking to invest in the talent of their existing workforce. It is essential that training ultimately delivers results, while fitting around employees’ existing commitments. Work-based training, such as apprenticeships, provides a long-term solution to UK organisations looking to adapt to challenges on the horizon such as Brexit, digitisation and new technologies.”


74 per cent of Welsh organisations said that they have had difficulties recruiting for a role due to lack of the right skills

Employers in London are spending the most as a result of the skills shortage, at £1.4 billion

63 per cent of Scottish organisations said that they have had difficulties recruiting for a role due to lack of the right skills


to Nursing

In May this year, the OU released a report that identified the barriers to entering the nursing profession, which are contributing to the shortage of nurses in the NHS.

We called for higher education institutions and NHS employers to address these barriers, including the cost of study and living away from home, travel, entry requirements and workload. Our recommendations ranged from embracing technology-enabled learning and opening up access by reviewing entry requirements, to promoting flexibility and positive nursing stories, and giving nurses the opportunity to earn while they learn.

Data uncovered by the OU showed that one in 20 places available to study nursing at university across the UK were vacant at the start of the academic year – that’s 1,446 potential nurses.

Breaking barriers to nursing

Did you know?

If key stakeholders focused on removing the barriers faced by prospective students and ensured that all places to study nursing are filled each year, an additional 10,122 nurses could be fully qualified in 10 years’ time – with a further 4,338 students still studying. This would fill 13 per cent of the forecasted nursing deficit.


OU and Isle of Wight nursing apprenticeship programme

This year, the OU and the Isle of Wight (IOW) NHS Trust have partnered to deliver a three-year apprenticeship programme to boost nursing numbers on the island.

With 120 nursing vacancies in the IOW, the £2 million investment from the Trust’s Apprenticeship Levy will widen access and boost the skills shortage, by providing crucial training and employment to increase the number of registered nurses and nursing associates.


The OU trains more health and social care staff than any other higher education provider


The apprenticeship programme is vital to the retention and expansion of the nursing workforce on the island, and we are thrilled to be able to support the Isle of Wight NHS Trust.”

Dr Sally Boyle Head of School for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at the OU

Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

We have been working with Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust since 2012 to deliver pre-registration and post-registration nursing degree programmes.

Sarah Pratt, a former graphic designer, is now part of Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust's district nursing team, having enrolled on the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship programme.

With the support of OU tutors, Sarah is learning new skills on the job, which will help her achieve her career goals and help the Trust improve its service.

Many of our student nurses that are on the programme have families, commitments, a job and they are part of a team that delivers a service. It allows them to be flexible and still be part of family life.

Lisa Gammon Higher Apprenticeships and Preceptorship Project Lead, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust

OU apprenticeships continue
to grow

The OU offers many apprenticeship programmes across England, Scotland and Wales.

More than 400 employers have chosen OU apprenticeships to develop staff. This year we have seen partnerships develop with North Yorkshire Police and Care UK to address skills gaps and grow talent.

John Baker, ICT General Manager at the Scottish Ambulance Service, has been involved in the development of the OU’s Graduate Apprenticeships programmes in Cyber Security and Software Development. He said: “We have first-hand experience of the OU’s … commitment to creating staff learning and development opportunities that meet the needs of industry.”


One in 12 degree apprentices in England are on an OU programme.*

*Calculation based on 2017/18 DfE data. Degree apprenticeships where a level 6 or 7 degree is attached.


Apprenticeship case study:

Thomas Robinson-Williams
To make the most of the apprenticeship levy, IBM is working with the OU to deliver three degree apprenticeship programmes to upskill its employees.

Thomas Robinson-Williams, IT Architect, came into IBM as a Level 3 apprentice, and saw an opportunity to further his skills and career prospects when he was offered a Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship.

He said: “I joined IBM straight from school at 18 and have worked for the company for eight years. The apprenticeship will give me crucial industry skills and knowledge to help me develop my career. My graduation will be a special moment.”

With our flexible delivery model, Thomas is navigating work and study with the balance he needs.


The Open University has got a proven track record in delivering skills and knowledge to a business environment. The most heartening thing about this programme is to see the benefit it has on people. That’s life-changing.

Paul Milner Senior Early Professionals Manager, IBM
Read more

Open up
the Future

In 2015, The Open University launched its first ever fundraising campaign, Open up the Future.

Working closely with alumni, corporate partners, trusts and foundations, friends and supporters, we set ourselves an ambitious challenge. We wanted to raise £50 million to coincide with our 50th anniversary year.

The campaign centres on an act that has always come naturally to The Open University: that of opening up – opening up minds, lives, thinking and opportunity. We believe that where you start in life shouldn’t limit where you go.

This year, 16,270 generous alumni, trusts, foundations, companies and individuals have supported our mission to open up education to all.

On behalf of the students and millions of lives touched by the projects supported, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all our supporters who have donated to The Open University this year. You have made such a difference.

Tree of learning

Our projects bring immeasurable benefits to so many lives, and we rely on the generosity of our donors for all of them. We’re already making a difference worldwide – but we have the potential to do even more. Take a look at the difference just some of our projects are making…


Conserving Britain’s floodplain meadows

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, which has supported the OU for over 20 years, has provided a £280,000 grant to boost the OU-led Floodplain Meadows Partnership.

The innovative project focuses on researching, managing, promoting and restoring these special meadows in England and Wales. The grant will raise awareness of the need to protect the meadows, which are home to a diverse range of flora and fauna and are a beautiful place to explore nature.

Group amongst fritillaries

Free courses for learners in secure environments

Prisoners are accessing free Level 1 courses, thanks to a £600,000 grant from the Garfield Weston Foundation and a £300,000 grant from The Open University Students Educational Trust.

The OU and the Prisoners’ Education Trust are delivering the courses as part of a three-year pilot scheme aimed at improving employment prospects and reducing reoffending.

So far, 190 prisoners have started their learning journey through the scheme in England and Wales.

Student studying

Santander Universities rewards future business stars with cash boost

Santander Universities’ Student Entrepreneurship Competition attracted 100 entries from across our faculties in its fifth year.

The winners – who received £6,000 each to grow their business idea – were Laurence Moore whose social enterprise helps veterans enter the construction industry and Tracey Field whose web platform helps nervous learner drivers.

This is the 11th year of our partnership with Santander Universities, which supports several programmes at the OU, including an internship programme supporting SMEs to engage students and graduates on short-term placements.

Open Networking Laboratory receives skills-boosting grant

Grant funding from the Ufi Charitable Trust will be used to develop our Open Networking Laboratory – an innovative online resource teaching introductory, practical computer networking skills.

The simulated computer network environment will help increase UK vocational skills and is aimed at vocational learners at further education and apprenticeship level, as well as educators and industry. The goal is to help as many learners as possible, regardless of prior educational background, to access employment in computer networking, an area which is in high demand from industry.

Projects making a difference

Managing My Money for Young Adults

A free course called Managing My Money for Young Adults has launched on OpenLearn to give young people knowledge that will help them make sound financial decisions now and in the future.

The course has been developed through a partnership between our Centre for the Public Understanding of Finance and the Chartered Accountants’ Livery Company Charity (CALC).

It is presented by maths teacher and TV personality Bobby Seagull (pictured).

Bobby Seagull

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Where you start in life shouldn't limit where you go. We believe that education should be open to everyone with the determination to change their lives. Join us in making the impossible possible for millions of learners.

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Celebrating 50 years of transforming lives