Posted by: Kash Farooq | July 25, 2011

The End of the Open University As We Know It

I’ve been distance learning on a part-time basis with the Open University for a few years now and have been recommending it to anyone that will listen. I became hooked after signing up for a random course a few years ago – I enrolled on the excellent “Fossils and the History of Life” course in 2007.

The Open University

I continued picking random courses until I discovered Astronomy – and since then I’ve been concentrating on astrophysics.

The courses and materials are interesting, varied and engaging. I have really enjoyed my experience so far: studying has been a pleasure, not a chore. I have also written a guide to studying with the Open University.

I am working towards a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences, but that is almost irrelevant. Studying is a hobby for me. I’m not doing it for a career change or to get degree; I’m doing it because I enjoy learning. Reading about physics is how I relax. Yes, I’m weird.

Though the recent huge student fees increases alarmed me, they didn’t affect me. I’m one of those lucky people that graduated years ago when it was free. Sorry.

So, I was stunned to see an Open University press release with the following title:

The Open University announces new fees of £5,000 in England.

As far as I can tell, there are no changes planned for Scotland. And it appears that Wales and Northern Ireland are still to make a decision.

Getting a degree from the OU works on a points system. You take modules that are worth a certain number of points and you need 360 points in total, at varying levels of difficulty, to be awarded an honours degree. 120 points is about the same as one year full-time at a traditional university. See my “guide to studying with the Open University” for more details.

The announcement stated that a 60 point module would cost £2500 from September 2012. Right now that same module costs £700 –  i.e. it will cost 3.5 times more from September 2012. [Edit: fixed my percentage mistake!]

I’ve come to a conclusion about what is going on after an interesting conversation with several people on Google+ – yes, Google+ turned out to be a useful tool for this sort of thing. In particular, fellow Pod Delusion contributor Alex Foster added a comment that was enlightening: at a council meeting to discuss student fees the OU representative was hugely in favour of the new student finance system as, for the first time, it was open to part time students.

So, after discovering this, I have a theory:

  • The OU, like all universities, was received funding from the government. This funding is being cut. And the OU needs to replace this money.
  • OU part time students can now get student loans to pay course fees. (Note: there are some prerequisites. See below)
  • Traditional universities are announcing fees of £9000 per year.
  • The Open University has announced fees of £5000 per year. That’s a huge saving.

I conclude that the Open University is trying to poach full-time students from “traditional brick universities.” And coupled with the fact that part-time students can now apply for loans, it means that people who are looking for a career change can apply for a loan and enrol with the Open University.

To be honest, I must admit, that it makes perfect financial sense. If an 18 year old is facing the prospect of a £27,000 loan to cover fees for a 3 year degree, then a £15,000 loan for an Open University degree sounds far more attractive. Of course, they won’t be able to bask in the glory of being away from parents for the first time, but is that worth 12 grand?

Actually, perhaps it is. But that’s not the point!

So, what’s the problem?

Basically, the Open University is closing the door to people who were already scared away from a traditional university education because of the cost. These people include both 18 year olds leaving school and people in “dead-end jobs” who want to better themselves. A lot of people who currently educate themselves with the Open University would balk at taking out a £15,000 loan to do so.

The Open University is also saying good bye to people like me. I can’t envisage people enrolling on a £2500 course just for fun.

It’s closing the door on people that are looking for a hobby after retiring – especially if you have a degree from 40 years previous as you then don’t qualify for a student loan.

Let’s look at the numbers [PDF] from 2009-10:

  • The Open University has over 250,000 students.
  • In the 2009–10, over 70% of students were in full-time or part-time employment.
  • So, I’d suggest that, at most, 30% (i.e. 75,000) studied full time with the OU.

70% (175,000 students) were in full-time or part-time employment. I obviously don’t know how many of those people are studying for fun, or studying for a career change. However, I would suggest that the Open University is undergoing a massive change in direction.

The students that currently make up 70% of the total are not the target audience that the Open University wants in the future. They want full-time undergraduates – they want a part of the 18-21 year old market.

I’ve used the word “market” whilst discussion education! It’s depressing writing about this in business and financial terms, but here are more numbers from 2009-2010 [PDF]:

Income £ millions
Funding body grants 244.0
Tuition fees and education contracts 156.7
Research grants and contracts 17.0
Other income 29.1
Endowment and investment income 3.3
Total 450.1

The total expenditure for the same period was £424.6 million.

The key amounts in the above table are grants and fees. The Open University receives more from grants than it does from fees. Our £700 60-point courses have been heavily subsidised. I don’t know the income breakdown that the Open University expects in 2012-2013, but I assume that they have crunched some data and come to the conclusion that the books will not add up unless they do something radical.

If you are already studying with the OU, you’re safe. Yes, I must apologise again – the fee increase doesn’t affect me. Current students just have to finish their degrees by 2017 and have to take at least one course every year.

If you are thinking of studying with the OU for fun, be quick! If you start now, you should be able to finish a degree by 2017. But please check the OU’s official position on fees ( to make sure you qualify for the cheaper prices.

The exact rules are:

you will start a module that counts towards your qualification between 1 September 2012 and 31 August 2013


you have completed a module which began between 1 September 2010 and 31 August 2011 OR you’re studying a module that starts between 1 September 2011 and 31 August 2012

But after 2012, I can’t see anyone studying with Open University just for the love of learning.

And that’s sad news.

Prerequisites to apply for a student loan to pay for OU course fees

Not everyone can apply for the loans. The minimum requirements are:

  1. You take courses worth at least 30 points each year.
  2. you do not already have a degree.

The Open University Student Budget Account

Due to the huge fee increases, you could take advantage of  The Open University Student Budget Account – a way of  borrowing course fees direct from the OU. The courses will still cost £2500 for 60 points, but you could spread the cost with the OUSBA.

Related posts

My follow-up: The End of the Open University As We Know It – Clearing up a few points.

By Tim Holyoake: No more social science masters programmes to be offered by the OU for “the foreseeable future”.

e-Petition: Stop the cuts in the Open University.

The registration fees have been announced: I assume the Open University isn’t expecting many applicants from England…

Since the cost increase, I’ve been on the lookout for free ways to learn. Here is what I have found: Learning for Free: a collection of free education resources.



I recorded a version of the above for episode 94 of the Pod Delusion – a podcast about interesting things.


  1. I don’t know if this affects me; I already pay more than double than the UK students currently do. I am in Athens, Greece, and the only alternative for me is the Open University, for many reasons. I will see how everything goes in the next couple of years, and how much courses will cost for me.
    I do hope that the situation will be reversed, and subsidies will become available once more. It is a pity and anathema that the first thing that is being cut when economies go bad is education. And unfortunately education is what ultimately helps get out of a bad economy. Higher education, more ideas, new products, new technologies…
    I thought the UK was more sensible than this. Well, there is always the Open Courseware from MIT in any case…

  2. I thought this was for a ‘full time’ degree with the OU – taken over three years. No?

    • The OU press release specifically states:

      For a typical student studying 60 credits in a year, the fee will be £2,500 per year.

      So, no – the new course fees aren’t just applicable to full-time students.

  3. I work at the OU, but am definitely not an official spokesperson. I was pointed here by John Halewood on Twitter, and thought I might be able to clarify a few things.

    The official position on our fees is here:
    – if anything I say contradicts that, I’m wrong!

    Your four bullet points seem spot on, but so far as I know, we’re really not trying to poach full-time students from other universities. Our strengths are in supporting flexible, part-time, distance study, and that’s what we’re trying to build on for the future.

    Sure, we do come out cheaper on a full-time basis than conventional universities, but studying with the OU is a very different prospect to a conventional university. We’re not trying to target traditional school leavers who want to study full time.

    It might be that people who are put off by the prospect of £9,000 fees a year decide to get a job and study part time alongside – and those people we are in a good position to help, because that’s what we do well.

    You’re right that it is going to be harder – or at least, more expensive – for students who are studying purely for pleasure, and that is very sad. But we’re not chasing after full-timers instead: we’re trying to do what we do best, which is part-time, flexible study.

    Picking up a few points from the comments:

    As Jill commented, up till now, you couldn’t get support to pay OU course fees, unless you were on a low income (or none), or your employer sponsored you. In the new regime, you can take out a loan even if you’re earning. (So long as you don’t already have a degree.)

    Paraskevi Oppio mentioned MIT OpenCourseWare, which is indeed cool, but the OU also offers a lot of its materials for free, under a Creative Commons licence, at OpenLearn Unlike MIT OCW, these are materials that were designed to be studied outside a conventional classroom.

    On the OU’s fees for students outside the UK: we haven’t fixed our fees yet, but I’d be surprised if they don’t work out to be about the same as for English students, plus a little bit (rather than plus an awful lot). We basically charge near to cost price for overseas students already, because those places weren’t subsidised by the Government.

    keren1David is right that £5,000 is the fee if you’re studying full-time with the OU (120 points a year). For 60 points, it’s £2,500, and for 30 points, it’s £1,250. You need 360 points for a degree. Typically our students study 60 points a year for six years – but we are of course pretty flexible.

    • Thanks for this, Doug. Very informative.

      On keren1David’s point:
      I thought keren1David was asking if the the new fees would only apply if you were studying full-time. i.e. if you were studying part-time, you’d get the fee level of £700 for 60 points.
      But I may have misunderstood!
      Basically, whether you do the degree in 3 years or 10 years – the total cost of a degree will be the same.

      On studying for pleasure:
      I know this is a very limited sample size, but the “studying for fun” students I have spoken to have already told me that they would never have considered an OU course if the price was £2500.
      Only time will tell if that is a representative view.

      • I used to advise the OU on fee setting and I’m afraid your sampling of students “studying for fun” just isn’t valid. If you want to model demand response to a fee increase, you don’t ask former or current students, you ask prospective students (this is what the OU used to do and as far as I’m aware still do). This is a basic (but hugely important) error that has been made by a lot of people during the arguments about tuition fees generally, particularly by the NUS.

        You might well be right. I would also expect *less* students to “study for fun” at higher prices. If it is the case, however, you can’t base the answer on asking current or former students.

      • I did say it was a very limited sample! I only know “studying for fun” current OU students.

        The only comments I have seen on Twitter and Reddit about this blog post are also from “studying for fun” students.
        Clock here for Twitter comments and here for the Reddit thread.

        I haven’t yet seen a single comment from a “studying for ‘real'” student – so I can’t comment on what they might be thinking.

        Time will tell. We’ll see what happens after September 2012.

      • As someone who was seriously contemplating studying with the Open University for pleasure, I can confirm that I am at least one person who will no longer be able to afford the latest commodity to be rebranded as a ‘luxury’: further education.

        Whilst I understand that austerity measures are necessary and that decreases in government subsidies must be covered from somewhere, I feel that the impact from the current sea change in attitude throughout the education sector is both sad and damaging.

        It was bad enough that to study will now be so expensive at traditional institutions. It was worse that some courses will now be scrapped due to falling demand, simply because they are no longer considered likely to improve chances of a career high flying enough to pay off the student loans – I’m not referring to the infamous ‘soft’ Media Studies but to subjects like History, Classics and Languages. This latest change, courtesy of the Open University, is however, at least in my opinion, saddest of all.

        I look back with fond nostalgia to the days when tertiary education was something to delight in for its own sake, when expanded knowledge and erudition were not simply boxes to be ticked when filling out a CV and, last but not least, when the only true limitation in study was an individual’s ability rather than their bank balance.

  4. I am studying for “fun” as already have a degree, and already have to fully fund myself. So under the new scheme, I would have to pay 3.5 more per course, with no option to have a student loan. I am also just about to go on the last ever Residential School for SXR369, which is another reason to think it is the end of the OU. I am slightly buffered by being in Scotland, though they haven’t announced the fees yet but they are likely to rise (IMO)

  5. Speaking as a recent OU graduate, these changes have been flagged up fairly clearly to anyone who was vaguely paying attention. Yes it is terribly sad and no, I don’t disagree with your conclusions about the OU’s change of direction. I’ve been ranting about it for a couple of years now. Sadly, the OU faces pretty clear economic pressures at just the time when demand for its services can be expected to rise astronomically (thanks to the government’s ‘reforms’, aka ‘cuts’).

    Re: love of learning, I can sympathise as that was my initial reason for doing a degree as well. BUT – and it is a big BUT – in my experience of the OU, there was FAR too little emphasis on re-skilling, career changes, career advice and general employment-focussed assistance. My subject (geoscience) was dominated by older, retired people, studying for the enjoyment of it. That’s really great for them, of course, but in terms of providing real help in both ‘upskilling’ (hate that word, but you know what I mean) and re-training people to find employment, the OU performs far below par. In a society where people are increasingly expected to accept redundancy as the ‘norm’, and can cover several fields in the course of their working life, assistance with re-training, gaining qualifications and ‘upskilling’ is ever-more vital.

    I can’t condone the cost increases, as they will hit everyone, career changers and hobbyists alike. But I do think the OU could do with re-thinking its mission to become a bit more focussed on helping people who are seeking to gain qualifications for employment reasons, and less time promoting itself as aeffectively a hobbyists’ association.

    PS. After starting out as a hobbyist, I am now aiming for a career change (and doing a postgrad course in order to enable me to do so). So obviously I accept that the categories ‘careerist’ and ‘hobbyist’ are a fairly simplistic analysis!

  6. Oh dear. Harold Wilson will be turning in his grave. I am studying with the OU for pleasure, for the joy of learning, and I do not receive, and will not ever need, a loan to assist funding. This is the end of the OU for students like me. No-one in the same (fortunate) position as me – yes no-one – will pay £2500 instead of £700. The OU must surely realise this. I`m absolutely gutted.

  7. […] The End of the Open University As We Know It « The Thought Stash Kash Farooq explains how the Open University's fees are changing (basically increasing by 3.5 times) to compensate for the loss of government grants, and suggests that the OU is now targeting younger students who are baulking at paying £9,000 per year for a campus education. But for older students who are learning for the sake of learning, or seeking a career change, the new fees are sadly going to make the Open University feel less open. Source: […]

  8. It’s science courses that are particuarly going to be hit by these increases. The value of a OU science degree without any significant practical work at £4000 for a degree (ie without residential courses) was dubious but at £15000 its a sick joke.

    Quite simply the price differential between a red brick university with decent labs and tutors at £27000 is simply not great enough between an OU degree at £15000 and virtual labs and potato experiments.

    If the Red Brick universities were charging say £40-45k for a degree then the OU might have been competive but as it is I wouldnt trust anyone who spent £15k on such a degree with any sort of money.

    It would have been better to say to the goverment we will have to close the OU and dare them to ride the political fallout

    • Yes, I agree, the science courses are far removed from being vocational, and they do not train you for any particular field. All they concentrate on, and a great may other courses from other schools of thought, are ‘computer skills’. a lot of young people do not need these skills, they already have them from school.

      The OU also does not have enough good quality tutors who are qualified with teaching and do not give enough academic support (or in my long term experience with the OU, very little academic support and sometimes very bad marking, some tutors do not know the course/have not read it). I live near a head teacher, who gives tremendous support to her pupils during exams, for revision etc, you just do not get that in the OU. Any young people attempting a degree with the OU will get an awful shock at the lack of support which they have been used to having at school.

      I can’t see the OU succeeding with competition of traditional universities. If you have to pay £15k then why not up it to £27k and go to a much better university where you will get lots of all round support. This is what I would advise any young person contemplating studying for a degree, or even try your local colleges to see what degrees they offer.

  9. Good point, Jon. Also worth noting that the OU is scaling back even its current basic practical work provisions, so most science graduates in the future will have had only a tiny amount of very generalised practical experience. Utterly useless, careers-wise.

  10. at £15000 the OU could actually bring back the residential courses but somehow I doubt it

  11. I have 2 courses left to do until I have finished my degree which hopefully I will complete this year but to be honest I am very sad to hear about the fee increase that the OU will be implementing. I am in my 30’s and work full time, and to be honest even finding the £700 to do one course per year has been tight especially with the rise of living costs that we are all experiencing and there is no way on earth I could even have contemplated studying through the OU if I had to pay the higher fees. To take on a loan of that amount with the costs I already have of just living would be totally unfeasible. I fear I am not alone with this and many who are just trying to further their education and improve their career prospects will suffer.

    • Yes I agree. The OU will become inaccessible to many people like ourselves who cannot afford it and I also find having to pay £700 odd a course a lot of money on top of everyday living.

      Additionally, the OU was set up to aid ‘mature’ people who had not been able to engage in much or any further education when younger, so now it will not be like that, as only the ones who can either A) afford to pay the full price of B) qualify for a loan will be able to engage in study with the OU.

      So, I for one who was looking forward to studying a few courses out of interest when older, will not be able to do that. The OU will loose a lot of its older students.

  12. “It would have been better to say to the goverment we will have to close the OU and dare them to ride the political fallout”. I heartily agree. It is the government that we should be blaming here, not the OU. This truth is being lost through the OU’s actions. The government needs to accept that the OU is a special case – well worth preserving for the jewel that it is. To emphasise this special nature in the minds of the public, the OU needs to concentrate its resources on a massive PR exercise to put pressure on the government. I fear, though, that the OU has decided to re-focus its income streams – concentrating more on money made from its excellent TV programs rather than we hobbyist students. I feel that we are losing a truly great British institution.

    • The OU is one of the universities that wanted higher fees. It is the fault of all the universities who have been lobbying the political parties to raise the fees for some time, rubbing their hands in glee at all the potential extra money they thought they would get!

      But the reality is most people won’t be able to afford to pay those fees.

      I don’t see the OU as a special case at all, its universities like Oxford, York, which are special cases.

      But I am one who thinks education should be free, as it does build the economy, and is paid for by all of us through our taxes. It is in reality just another sort of tax, raising the fees so that the government can use the money they use to give the universities
      elsewhere, for their idealistic projects.

  13. ‘It is the government that we should be blaming here, not the OU.’

    Not sure I neccessarily agree with this the OU is a business and despite what people who worship the free market says, no business gives a toss about its customers only itself (I’ve worked for loads of businesses we care about a customers money not the customer).

    Its not to say individual tutors don’t want their students to succeed and do well but there no 1 priority has to be staying in a job (like everyone else).

    It’s going to be fascinating to see what the cut in student applications will be in 2012 I’m predicting around 50% for convential universities and probably a lot higher for the OU which to be honest is what the government wants and in itself isn’t neccessary a bad thing. Universities should be for the academic elite (not the financial elite) with better apprenticeships for people who are of a more practical nature

  14. Jon S, “the OU is a business”. This is the problem. Under the new regime, the OU has no choice but to try to survive as any other business does. My point is that the OU shouldn`t be regarded as a business, it is a public service, a state-funded university open to all. This was Harold Wilson`s vision, not for the OU just to be another business. All is lost.

    In an attempt to function as a business, the OU has calculated that its only hope is to rely on other income streams and champion the new student loan arrangements – focusing on students that need these arrangements. So the OU students take on the £15000 debt and the OU receives this sum. IMO this will fail as I think that they are overestimating the value students put on this type of learning and the distaste students have of the debt. But even if they DO attract enough students to survive as a business – it will not be the OU in the way that we know and love.

  15. The OU also attracts a lot of overseas students. With the increase in the fees they will lose a lot of the overseas students. At the moment I pay x2 plus a little bit more; if fees triple, which means that probably they will double for me, I can forget doing the Master’s degree in Maths, and will only try and finish my current degrees by 2017. Maybe even sooner, and then concentrate and try to do as much as I can on my own.

    I go each year to the exams and there are at least 100-200 students in Athens alone. With the greek university system which is awful, and being very difficult to get in the greek open-type university, the OU in the UK was and is my only option for a degree.

    Maybe the OU could increase the cost just a little bit, not more that 5-10% and concentrate on doing a PR promotion in countries like Greece? Greek Universities are also notoriously bad at the moment.

    Also, I love the residential courses, and would prefer if those stayed.

  16. It is sad, and will certainly change the profile of OU students. But I think it raises the awkward question – should the government really have been heavily subsidising people to do things “for fun” in the first place? Love of learning is a wonderful thing, but I am dubious about the mindset that leaps straight from “thing is wonderful” to “thing must be subsidised by taxpayers’ money”.

    I’m personally quite miffed, because I’d certainly envisaged moving into OU study at some point and this will deter me. But then I already have degrees coming out of my ears and I would not be overwhelmed with surprise to find that society at large didn’t value my “love of learning” as much as I do.

    • Good point.
      It was surprising to discover that our £700 courses must have been heavily subsidised.

      But couldn’t this argument progress to anything that is considered a public service? “Why should my tax pay for libraries? I never use libraries”.
      And people have progressed from “love of learning” to “career change learning” – and hence eventually make a return to the economy that way.

      • Absolutely it can. Not quite to any public service, because certain things are widely considered to constitute basic rights in the 21st century (sanitation, law enforcement, healthcare, welfare, basic education) but libraries are a good example of a public service very much on the borderline of what can be easily justified. I don’t like it, but it’s true. It is possible that my desire to live in a certain sort of society where there are free public libraries is less important than other things. (Sadly this seems to include nuclear weapons, which is where it all falls down, but still!)

        You’re right about the possibility of gradual progression of course.

      • Returns to the economy also imply returns to the individual who has benefitted from the subsidised course.

        If you do earn more following your subsidised learning (“career change learning”), it seems fair that you should pay back the cost of that course to the taxpayer (many of whom earn less than you might end up earning). The fact that you’ll end up paying more tax anyway isn’t really relevent – you’ve still been subsidised relative to peers earning the same amount who didn’t take the course.

        If you already earn a decent salary, but don’t expect to earn more as a result of your course (ie “learning for fun”), then I’m not entirely sure why you should be subsidised. “It’s fun” is not really a convincing justification for public subsidy. Will removing the subsidy discourage learning for fun? Quite possibly. But if the prospective student on a middle income doesn’t think a course is worth its true cost, I’m not entirely sure why society as a whole should think otherwise.

        I’m sure there are broader benefits to society of educating more of its members to a higher level – but they are not easy to quantify. There is a very clear benefit to the individual (they are get something expensive that they enjoy for cheap) and, as Alix says, the opportunity cost of not having the same money to invest elsewhere.

        Finally and most importantly, if you don’t think you’ll end up earning much when your course is over, you will not expect to have to pay back your student loan. Low earners can therefore still expect their course to be heavily subsidised. With this knowledge neither should low earners should be discouraged from taking a punt on a course to improve their career. This seems progressive to me.

        So the policy removes a subsidy from upper and middle earners. In financially austere times, that seems reasonable.

        I do think there is an issue of generational inequality, but that’s a whole other rant.

      • My response

  17. I disagree on what Alix is saying about people learning for fun. Some people also change careers because they want to do what they are learning for fun; I certainly would if I was younger, and did not have a few other things as well.

    Some people do part-time work or voluntary work on science projects, because of their learning for fun.

    I hope this changes in the near future. The UK government with this decision is destroying education. It is not helping people get educated and thus be able to increase income, and increase the ROI, but it is destroying education.

    • I’ve already agreed with Kash above that some people eventually find a new career as a result of fun learning. If you want to suggest this is worthwhile in terms of ROI, probably it would be possible to measure this type of outcome and see if it was significant.

      Bascally, I think you would need to justify your statement that education at this level always gives a return worth having in terms of increased income/productivity. Remember, it’s not a zero sum game. There are other places for that money to go. Clearly, none of us are going to rock up to a sweet old lady in a hospital bed and tell her she can’t have her heart bypass because we love learning, and at the other extreme we’d probably all ditch the Trident programme like a shot. So we’re all in a constant dialogue about priorities and *relative* ROI. It’s not enough to say “this is a Good Thing and has this Good Outcome, therefore it should be funded.”

  18. I’ve done a degree at a Brick University and it was clearly subsidised (and to be honest I didnt take ardvantage of being too young and immature etc), taking a degree at the OU I just don’t see any subsidy. The course work is good, the tutorial support is limited by generally ok and its reasonable value for £4000 with the exception of the residentials probably being too cheap.

    I just don’t see the cost in producing an OU degree being much more than £4000 and I assume if they are charging EU students only double that then they can make a profit on it.

    I hate to say it and I don’t like the free market in education but I suspect in this case someone could do an OU quality degree for less than £15000. If you are going to do distance learning then base the campus/admin in India or China with local tutors (Milton Keynes might as well be New Delhi for my purposes)

    To put it bluntly £27000 for a degree at any good convential university may be worthwhile I can’t see any circumstances where £15000 for an OU could be

    • There is also Holland who have been touting in the UK for students.

  19. £2500 for the 60 credit units! Currently sitting at £700 which is a bargain for sure and I could handle a small increase, but bumping the price up by 250% in one hit is crazy. Going to be tough for people half way through their degree who have budgetted £700 per unit and suddeny are paying a cray amount more.

    Well they can shove that…

  20. Is there anyone – ANYONE – who would spend £15000 on a distance-learning degree? Nobody posting here would, it seems, and no-one else that I have spoken to over the last few days would either. The OU seems to be banking on students regarding a £15000 student debt as being a somehow lesser sum than £15000 paid in cash.

    Any Labour Party activists out there? Miliband should be having a field-day on this issue, so many people are very fond of the OU, they see it as a valuable state provision. Shaming the government is our only hope; they did a U-turn on our forests.

  21. “Is there anyone – ANYONE – who would spend £15000 on a distance-learning degree? Nobody posting here would, it seems, and no-one else that I have spoken to over the last few days would either. The OU seems to be banking on students regarding a £15000 student debt as being a somehow lesser sum than £15000 paid in cash.”

    Its no so much would an existing student pay that but would someone who has just done his A levels either

    a) Pay £27000 to go to a normal university
    b) Pay £15000 to go to the OU
    c) Not go to university at all

    a & c seem a possibility but you would be absolutely insane to go for b even more so for a science course

  22. Of course, you’re forgetting option d – working whilst spending £15000 spread over six or more years in order to gain a degree to enhance your career prospects – then having many years to pay it back. This option is exactly what the OU is about. If you didn’t go to a brick university and now want to do a degree but have a mortgage and/or kids the OU is one of few options.
    I did a science degree at a good brick university and did pretty well, I’m now doing a part time science degree with the OU and have to say that I’m getter more out of the OU than I did from the traditional University because I’m not a lazy immature 19 year (many people just don’t take advantage of the fantastic opportunities provided by the full time universities because they’re too young). Anyone who can get through a whole degree with a good grade whilst working full time and bringing up kids I think should prove be very employable.
    These fee rises do rule out the option to chenge direction for people like me which is a big shame and also the life long learners which is another great shame but I do think there will still be many takers for the OU even with the new fee stucture.

  23. I agree ,many 18/19 year olds don’t take advantage of university when they are but you really think they are up to doing a full time job, doing OU part time and have any sort of life.

    One of the reasons I’m doing better at university 2nd time round is that I’m married, have reasonable accomodation , money is no larger a problem than for an other 39 year old etc. None of this is going to apply for someone just out of their A levels I’m prepared to say it would be almost impossible to do for most people without some serious stress related problems and I actually think people will regret how they spent their lives between 18-24 not to mention the drop out rate is likely to be horrendous

  24. Absolutely, I wouldn’t recommend the OU as an alternative to traditional Universities at A level leaving age – I’d definately say that if you know you want to do a degree at that age then, if you can, go to a brick university but there are a lot of people who didn’t go to university at that age, are use to working hard and could not possibly drop everything to go full time as a mature student. For them even with the new fees which I do think are excessive I still think there is a place for the OU. Still, I think it is a great shame that they’ve had to go this way especially as they are simultaneously withdrawing the residential couses which you would think would be able to be kept and even extended with the higher costs.

  25. The older you are when you go to the OU the less justifyed the course loans are going to be economically.

    So you effectively have OU ‘hobby’ degrees for more mature students who probably arent going to waste £15k, or OU career degrees for A level students who probably won’t even be able to complete them.

    This leads to those somewhere in the middle , those who are prepared to do a degree for a career change and accept it will never be profitable and I just don’t think the numbers are there

  26. Hello everyone,

    As an OU enthusiast and someone who is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study for a degree – especially when no other university would have accepted me – I am saddened by the fee changes. I am just coming to the end of my degree and had every intention of continuing study for life. Unfortunately, with such drastic price increases I just cannot justify the extra cost I would incur just to study for fun, enhance my knowledge and maybe enhance my career prospects a little.

    I think the OU will still survive but I strongly believe the OU will take a major step back over this change. Having said that, I feel incredibly sorry for all those involves in making this decision as they are only making the best of what is a really bad situation. While most of us are clearly unhappy about this situation, we cannot blame the OU; it’s the Government we should be blaming.


    • Hi Danny,
      I’m working on a story about part time students and I am trying to find people considering doing a part time degree (either at the OU or elsewhere). Could you let me know if you are based in London?
      My email address is
      If anyone else who has replied to this thread is in the same position I’d be grateful if you would get in touch.

  27. Hi,

    I just came across your post, it seems a very lucid analysis of the situation, good to see.

    You might be interested in our group:

    Also on facebook:


  28. I don’t think the OU is a good choice for young students say 18 – 25 age. With traditional university you get it over with in 3 or 4 years then get on with your life. You have support of fellow students and tutors and that daily structure to keep you on track. The OU you are very lonely stuck in your room for upto 6 long years with no life or friends. The £10k or so extra is well worth paying if you ‘must’ go to university after school. I am a mature OU student and if I could I’d have gone to brick uni full time anyday over OU. Not saying the OU isn’t good just that you need to be mature and dare I say a “bit boring” ‘to be able to cope with the drudgery of OU study day in, day out, year in , year out. Why, no doubt the OU has been built on mature students. Luckily I am that now. You should not underestimate the amount of time required to study with the OU. Consider also many courses quote the bare minimum amount of required study hours which some turn out to take three times that. Again, the fact you have little immediate on hand tutor support and daily lectures a possible reason that OU study is so much harder. Sure when you start you are very enthusiastic but OU study is very much a long, dull and lonely marathon. If you can keep going great. But yes, there is not the rounded life experience that you will get with brick university attendance.

  29. It seems that from a financial point of view, that the Open University is not so ‘Open’ any more. I studied for my degree with them whilst working full time. As such I didn’t then, and would not in the future have been eligible for a grant (believe me, I looked into this!) What a shame that this fantastic institution is having to become like a brick university. Glad I enrolled for my MA in the nick of time! Great blog.

  30. I am currently studying for my B.Sc. Psychology and thankfully started it in time to remain on the lower fee bracket (roughly £700 for each 60 point course). I chose to study with the OU for their amazing low fees and the fact that the nearest brick uni offering psychology at degree level was two hours away by train.

    I needed flexible, quality, accessible, affordable part-time study which is what I got. I don’t think the OU had much choice in upping their fees and they still offer good value for money for some especially considering many people are earners whilst they study and may be able to get loans.

    I do agree though with lewis that the OU is probably not the best choice for 18-25 age group. You really do miss out on the social side of education and the one to one tutoring and support that you get from brick universities. The motivation and discipline needed to study with the OU is immense especially at higher levels and I for one know that I could not of done that at 19 years old.

    What I am really sad about is the fact that people who study for enjoyment, to expand their knowledge and to keep their brains ticking over with the fantastic course material the OU provide will not be able to any more. Let’s face it who can afford to spend out £2500 on a 60 point course just because they want to learn more about child development or world archaeology?

    The times are changing and as always somebody will lose out.

  31. I currently work in retail which isn’t the strongest economy out there. Recently I decided that doing an OU degree in English lit & lang will help me in the future, should anything happen to the company I work for.
    The current fees are realistically payable and I could easily graduate in six years. After reading the PDF booklet and seeing almost four times the original amount for one year, I worked out I could only afford to study thirty credits a year and take twelve years to graduate. I’m devastated! I need to do this to help my future although my future with my current employer may not last twelve years. All I can do is save for the next year or so to try and lessen the duration.

  32. […] background-position: 50% 0px; background-color:#544E4F; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 2:32 […]

  33. 12 years to graduate at an affordable price. I won’t be taking part. The reduced fee in Scotland and Wales is laughable. Adios education to the less well off!

  34. Closed University

  35. I think if it takes up to 12 years to complete a degree part-time then in my books your doing it as a hobby. This is not an attractive prospect at any age.

    A suggestion – allow people to study for the joy and pay the reasonable course fees of £700 for a 60 unit course etc. If a student then wants to get the qualifcation you pay the inflated fee to sit the exam(s).

    • The problem with that suggestion is that the ou only gets funding from the government if the courae is completed ie you sit the exam or submit eca. So it actually costs them more if people only do the course and not get the certification points. Open learn gives option of stdying for free, suspect a lot more people will do these

  36. I have been a OU student on and off for 15 years. With the cost increase, this will be my last year.

    You can purchase a lot of books for £15000!

  37. I realise I am somewhat late to the conversation but as someone that had been buying time till the opportunity arose to study with the OU, I am slightly shocked to find that the option is no longer afforded to me. I am one of the 70%, a ‘mature’ student that would, on the whole, be studying for the sheer pleasure of learning and maybe in hope that the new qualification would feed into my career path. Granted, I have a BA (Hons) and MA from bricks & mortar establishments (both gained as a mature student) but the OU would have allowed me to take up a totally new subject area well removed from my current field without taking anymore time out and leaving further gaps in my cv. Many years ago, when I was a young single parent without any qualifications I could not afford the OU and besides that, though I could have pieced a degree together it would not have been one able to forward me in the direction I was looking into. The OU courses on offer are fairly traditional and standardised. I left the idea alone thinking it would be something a I ‘treated’ myself to in the future, alas, at £15,000 for a degree, I now sadly accept that my days of formal learning are now restricted to direct work related training. As mentioned above, I will be directing money to Amazon for some self-initiated learning from now on and be awarding myself a non official degree in less years than 6!

    My sympathy goes out to those in need of a degree from the OU to actually engage with the world of work for the first time such as SAHM. I imagine many a dream are having to be be revised which is a real shame.

  38. money is the root of all evil , the OU business school is to blame for this slip into a dark night of follys. (self funded madness)

    A Improve effectiveness, reduce cost and strengthen competitiveness
    B Identify and exploit new opportunities within existing markets
    C Identify and enter new markets in order to grow income
    D die non-profit making business model ‘education for all’ ha!

    i dream of market competition ! a univeristy for the people
    and for all levels, that gives university access to people of all ages and backgrounds who might not have had educational opportunities earlier in their lives.
    correspondent courses , via skype and online grading and community support. a university of the air!

    so mr @Ed_Miliband how do you feel about a ‘university of the’ air to turn the broken britian youth into the techpilots of the future world?

    SEO was something i read about once @google

  39. Thank you, a well researched piece. Came across it as I was searching for ‘OU fees 2012’. Yes, I had a big shock when, after a two year break, decided to go back to OU with a Creative Writing Course, and discovered that the fee would be £2500. I suppose I am one of those students who study for fun, because I enjoy it, because I want to keep the brain occupied.

    I did my first degree with the OU in Social Sciences and finished in 2010. I enjoyed every minute of it (all 7 years of it!) and have to say that, despite the ‘pot luck’ with the tutors’, the teaching and all the materials were absolutely first class.

    So, yes, I hold a first degree. I also have a job with an avarage wage, and won’t be eligable for any support. To pay this sort of money ‘just because I enjoy the subject’ is just not an option, and even if thinking of career development, I would seriously struggle with a large loan like that. Looking at other options to do a creative writing course now, sadly. OU, I’ll miss you.

  40. Thank you, an excellent article with loads of insightful comments. As for what brought me here –
    For some time now and after many years in a dead end manual job, that made no use of my degree in mathematics, I have been thinking about retraining to get a career that is much more demanding, rewarding and fulfilling. I would love to find a job that I am passionate about and actually look forward to going to everyday.
    So I finally decide to take the plunge, I felt kind of elated to know I had finally made the decision. I always thought the OU was the only realistic option for me – as I need to carry on working, want a degree level course and I know of no other institutions like the OU
    Then after some research I came across the cost(initially I was only looking at what to study)! Talk about burst the bubble I had been waking around in for the last few days, there is no way I can afford £2500 a year. £1250 would be stretching it to say the least and there’s no way I want to take twelve years, I could just cope with six. I’m 38, married, mortgage, one child another on the way – the usual I suppose :-).
    So apart from vent my frustrations, I came on here wondering if anyone had any suggestions?
    I was thinking of a career in environment/technology/engineering area, not really sure exactly what.

    • Spencer, I’ve just received an email from the OU about guaranteed student funding. It might be worth taking a look at it:

      • Hi, thank you for your reply, I really appreciate you taking the time.

        Unfortunately it seems I will be unable to get any funding as I already have an undrgraduate degree.

        Unless I have missed something? I hope so :-).

        I have now decided to teach my self A level ‘environmental studies’ and A level physics whilst I work out what to do

  41. You are correct. If you already have a degree you must fund it yourself. And there is no funding for higher degrees either. So much for the high tech flexible work force.

    • Ultimately it is the less well off that suffer, so much for ‘social mobility’. Reminds me of something I heard somewhere “Governed by the rich, for the rich”.

  42. […] think: Yes, yes it […]

  43. Found this article when searching for ‘what happened to OU prices’. I haven’t studied with the OU since 2008 so I don’t qualify for any price reduction. There is no way I can afford, or wish to afford, £2500 for an on-line course, its ridiculous. It’s not even a proper University in my eyes, which in turns means I cannot ever finish my degree, which I have half of, in International Studies. The price you pay for having a baby I guess. Well, at least it explains the spam I get from the OU as they’re probably losing A LOT of students. Disgusted I really am. Also paying £2500 for a single module puts a lot of pressure on to pass the course! For a degree which probably won’t massively change my job prospects – as I am in my 30s already and up against much younger candidates.

    • If it’s not a proper university in your eyes why are you worried? A degree in international studies – you are probably not missing much anyway. Mickey mouse comes to mind! I do agree the new prices are ridiculous though even for worthwhile subjects.

      • Im worried because its costs loads of money, surely you’d be more worried? Considering International studies studies economics as part of it I would hardly call it a ‘mickey mouse’ degree. It will enable me the education to discuss such issues lol Thank you for your such delightful response, now haven’t you got admin work to do at the OU?

      • What you were trying to say I think was it is not a university comparable to normal universities because you are not attending a premises. That would be a fair comment and is why also the fees should not be compared like for like as though it is now somehow a “bargain”. They have no overheads or few we study from home. It is a shame though as I’d loved to have carried on studying. £700 per module was about affordable and fair. I might have stretched to £1200 maximum but no more.

        The Open University is now the Closed University sadly.

  44. hi every one am going to do my PGCE/maths with OU ,any one please has any idea if it good for PGCE ,or is better to go to normal university


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