Lesson Ten Reading

5. Open Access in Higher Education

Open Universities

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a rapid growth in the number of open universities that required no or minimal prior qualifications for entry. In the United Kingdom, for instance, in 1969, less than 10 per cent of students leaving secondary education went on to university. This was when the British government established the Open University, a distance teaching university open to all, using a combination of specially designed printed texts, and broadcast television and radio, with one week residential summer schools on traditional university campuses for the foundation courses (Perry, 1976; Weinbren, 2015).

The Open University started in 1971 with 25,000 students in the initial entry intake, and now has over 200,000 registered students. It has been consistently ranked by government quality assurance agencies in the top ten U.K. universities for teaching, and in the top 30 for research, and number one for student satisfaction (out of over 180). It currently has over 200,000 registered students (Weinbren, 2015). However, it can no longer cover the full cost of its operation from government grants and there is now a range of different fees to be paid. In addition access to higher education has now widened to the point where 50% of a high school cohort now enter some form of higher education in the UK (UK Department of Education, 2018).

There are now nearly 100 publicly funded open universities around the world, including Canada (Athabasca University and Téluq). These open universities are often very large. The Open University of China has over one million enrolled undergraduate students and 2.4 million junior high school students, Anadolou Open University in Turkey has over 1.2 million enrolled undergraduate students, the Open University of Indonesia (Universitas Terbuka) almost half a million, and the University of South Africa 350,000. These large, degree awarding national open universities provide an invaluable service to millions of students who otherwise would have no access to higher education (see Daniel, 1998, and more recently, Contact North, 2019, for a good overview).

Alternatives to Open Universities

It should be noted however that there is no publicly funded open university in the USA, which is one reason why MOOCs have received so much attention there. The Western Governors’ University is the most similar to an open university, and private, for-profit universities such as the University of Phoenix fill a similar niche in the market.

As well as the national open universities, which usually offer their own degrees, there is also the OERu, which is basically an international consortium of mainly British Commonwealth and U.S. universities and colleges offering open access courses that enable learners either to acquire full credit for transfer into one of the partner universities or to build towards a full degree, offered by the university from which most credits have been acquired. Students pay a fee for assessment.