I’ve been studying with the Open University for a few years now and I’m often asked how it works, how long it takes to get a degree, how much it costs, etc.
Rather than answer these questions in a series of 140 character tweets, I thought I’d blog it.
Firstly, I’d just like to highly recommend studying with the Open University. The courses and materials are interesting, varied and engaging (I guess they need to be for distance learning). I have really enjoyed my experience so far: studying has been a pleasure, not a chore. If you’re not sure you want to formally study, try starting with a “short course”. That’s what I did, and I got hooked after my first course (Fossils and the History of Life).
You can study at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. I only have experience of undergraduate study. Specifically, I only have experience of studying undergraduate science so that’s what I’ll concentrate on.
I am currently working towards a B.Sc (Hons) Natural Sciences, specialising in Astronomy.
What you need to gain a degree
- To obtain a B.Sc. degree, you need to gain 300 points.
- To obtain a B.Sc. (Hons) degree you need 360 points.
- Points are gained by passing modules; each module is worth a certain number of points.
- The 360 points required for an honours degree are split across modules at three different levels – you need to gain 120 points by passing Level 1 modules, 120 at Level 2 and 120 at Level 3.
- Modules typically come in three sizes: 10 point modules (mainly level 1, and residential/practical courses), 30 point modules and 60 point modules.
- Modules start and end on predetermined dates. You just start a module when you want.
- 30 and 60 point modules normally run over 10 months (e.g. January to October).
- 10 point modules can be completed in as short a time as 10 weeks, or as long as 20 weeks.
- A degree normally requires you to pass a few compulsory modules, and then you make up the remaining points by choosing from a list of eligible modules.
- You can study as many modules in a year as you have time for. I’ve easily completed two 10 point modules simultaneously. If you work full-time, studying two 30 point level 2 modules at the same time would be tough.
- You can do modules in any order. For example, you could do a level 2 module, followed by a level 3, then back to a level 1 module. You just need to bear in mind that some of the later levels assume you have a prerequisite level of knowledge that you would have gained by doing modules at early levels.
- All books, DVDs, etc. are provided for each module (they are included in the course fee). Well, so far (up to Level 2), I’ve never had to buy books in addition to the ones provided. I assume this is also the case for Level 3 courses.
I have been able to specialise in Astronomy by selecting all relevant modules.
Study time required
Modules are designed so that they require an equal amount of study time:
- 1 point is equivalent to 10 hours of study.
- So… a 60 point module should require 2 times as much study time as 30 point course.
- A 60 point course over 10 months will require, on average, about 60 hours study time per month, or 15 hours per week.
However…it does seem to vary between courses and levels. For me, a Level 2 30 point course seemed to require as much study time as a 60 point Level 1 course.
Exams and Assessment
- Level 1 courses typically do not have an exam:
- A Level 1 10 point course will have one assignment at the end of the course.
- A Level 1 60 point course will have continuous assignments throughout the 10 months.
- Level 2 and 3 courses will have continuous assignments throughout the 10 months and an exam at the end.
For the excellent 10 month, 60 point, general science course S104 Exploring Science, I had to do 16 assignments; 7 sent in to be marked by a tutor and 9 on-line multiple choice type assignments. [Incidentally, I really do recommend this course – 8 books, each on an individual subject. For example, there is a book on chemistry, another on physics, and another on biology. Basically, an overall foundation course in science.]
For the (also excellent) 10 month, 30 point S282 Astronomy course, I had to send in 4 assignments to be marked by a tutor and then pass a 3 hour exam at the end.
Along the way to getting your degree, you can gain other certificates and diplomas. For example, I am studying for (or have already gained):
- Certificate in Astronomy and Planetary Science (which is endorsed by the Royal Astronomical Society and requires you to pass S282 Astronomy and S283 Planetary science and the search for life).
- Certificate in Contemporary Science (requires you to pass 6 x 10 point short science courses).
- Certificate in Natural Sciences (requires you to pass S104 Exploring Science).
The cost and how long it will take
EDIT: There are huge cost changes planned for 2012. See The End of the Open University As We Know It for more details.
EDIT 2: Due to the huge fee increases, you may need to take advantage of The Open University Student Budget Account – a way of borrowing course fees direct from the OU.
I have been studying gradually. I started in 2007 and I am currently about half way through my B. Sc. so the cost has been well spread out over the last 4 years.
- A 30 point course costs £400.
- A 60 point course costs £700.
[Based on 2011 prices]
Assuming you will do 2 x 60 point courses and 8 x 30 point courses, the total price for your degree will be £4600. If you have a day job, and don’t take any time off (I have taken several months off here and there), you could complete an honours degree in 6 or 7 years. That means the degree will cost you less than £800 per year.
Note, however, if your chosen degree requires you to earn some of your points via residential courses, this will bump up the price (as meals and accommodation are included in the price for a residential course). I recently spent a week at Observatorio Astronómico de Mallorca as part of my degree.
If you really can’t afford it… you can always just buy the course materials. Of course, you won’t have access to the Open University tutors or online resources, but the materials are good. You can also find people selling second hand books on Amazon and eBay.
Or how about trying one of these free resources? See Learning for Free: a collection of free education resources.
And yes, you can get an NUS Extra student card if you are studying with the Open University. It costs you £10, but then you can use it to, say, get free Microsoft software or discounts at various retailers.
The OU have recently launched a new website specifically for students from outside of the UK and Ireland: http://www.openuniversity.edu
I’m studying with the Open University as a hobby. I enjoy it. I’m not doing it for a career change. I’m not even really doing it to get another degree. I just like learning. And Open University has provided me with a structured way to learn new, interesting and cool stuff with excellent course materials (textbooks, DVDs, home experiment kits).
The experience has been very rewarding. I wish I’d started it as soon as I’d finished my first degree!Follow @kashfarooq