Posted by: Kash Farooq | May 27, 2012

I assume the Open University isn’t expecting many applicants from England…

The Open University

I’ve blogged about the huge increase in Open University fees before. At the time of writing that blog post, only the fees for students in England had been announced. The fees for students based in Scotland were expected to be unchanged and Wales and Northern Ireland had yet to make a decision.

To recap, a 60-point course that used to cost around £600 will cost £2500 from September 2012 for new students (existing students get the cheaper prices until 2017). £600 to £2500 is quite an increase. It’s due to the government slashing education budgets across all universities and, I assume, this is the only option the Open University has – they have to get their funding shortfall from students.

I thought I’d take a look at a course registration page to see what has changed. Let’s look at registration fees for the excellent S104 – Exploring Science course. I did this course in 2008 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It cost me about £560.

When you visit the course page, in the “Register for the course” section you are now asked to pick your country. You don’t see a price until you do:

OU course registration - Choose country

Picking England gives the previously announced £2500:

OU Course Registration - Selecting England

Choosing Scotland gives you a “slightly” better deal:

OU Course Registration - Selecting Scotland

£2500 vs. £735. For the exact same course. The exact same materials, the same website, the same tutor support.

Incidentally, you get the £735 course price if you select Wales or Northern Ireland too.

Any student living in England and thinking about studying with the Open University would visit this page and, obviously, take a look at how much it costs if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

I hasten to add, this isn’t the Open University’s fault. They aren’t discriminating against students from England! Basically, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided to subsidise education. England has decided to remove the equivalent funding. I repeat: this is not the Open University’s fault. It is the English government deciding they do not want to fund university education any more. The fault lies with the government, not with the Open University.

You can, from September onwards, apply for a student loan for part-time courses, as you already can for traditional brick university degree courses*. But I suspect that these fee differences between England and the other home nations would put off any England-based students from applying in the first place. Perhaps it would even provide an incentive for them to move to Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland and distance study from there. If I was planning to study with the Open University to try and get out of a “dead end job”, I may as well be doing a dead end job in Scotland and paying only a third of the price for the same degree.

Either way, I assume the Open University isn’t expecting many applicants from England…

So it is The End of the Open University As We Know It – but only for students that live in England.

How about if I study from Honduras?!

I thought I’d see what happens if I pick a random country:

OU registration - Honduras

Yes, it costs the same to study an OU course if you live in Honduras as it does if you live in England. It costs the same to study from…picking another country at random from the drop down list…Japan. Students that live in England who are studying at the Open University (Milton Keynes, England) are paying the same as an overseas student!

Now that did surprise me.

Though, perhaps, location is irrelevant for a distance learning university. Perhaps the only difference it makes to The Open University is if your country of residence is subsidising your education or not.

*You can only apply for a loan if you haven’t already got a degree. So, if at 18 years old you chose badly for your first degree, and then when you are, say, 24 years old you realise that you need to start again, you can’t get loan. (Thanks Sarah for reminding me about this condition – see comments). Again, this is a government rule and has nothing to do with the Open University (or any university).

Related posts

The End of the Open University As We Know It

Learning for Free: a collection of free education resources


  1. No longer possible for disabled and disadvantaged people to receive funding support except via loans like everyone else now. Is that also true only for England?

  2. ‘from September onwards, apply for a student loan for part-time courses’

    Only if it’s your first degree course, which means that English students who wish to change career or who study as a hobby are priced out. The OU has effectively become an English institution that no longer serves the English people. And that, in a nation that values lifelong learning and the acquisition of new skills. Such a pity.

    • Used to value lifelong learning and the acquisition of new skills.

  3. Write to your MP and tell them you are disgusted with this further example of anti-English discrimination.

  4. Yes, I totally agree that it is unjust to discriminate against the English. I think such high fees will put off students in England – they are prohibitive.
    Meanwhile who is paying for the mismanagement of the Royal Bank of SCOTLAND? And for the mistakes of a series of SCOTTISH Chancellors and Prime Ministers? Blair, Brown, Darling… The English tax-payer is. And will be for generations.

    • Ha, in that case then we the Scottish apologise for Brown etc. Glad there’s a decent English prime minister now 😉

      I can’t believe the difference between English and Scottish fees. Also, the condition that only first-time students can receive a loan isn’t the case in Scotland. ILA Scotland would cover most of the fee as well (I think they’d give about £500 for that £700+ fee).

      Wow. Might be cheaper moving to Scotland 😉

  5. Well, it’s still less than 1/3 of the cost of most other universities!

  6. It might be worth pointing out that a 60 point course is not equivalent to a year in full time, but more like half a year (360 points required for a full degree).

    Also, it’s not discrimination against the English, it’s simply that the funding from the state for students living in England is no longer available so needs to be picked up from somewhere, just as it is for all other Universities.

  7. Peter Harrison:

    A decent English Prime Minister? But Mr Cameron boasts of his Scottish “blood”!

  8. Write to your MP. They are responsible for the Westminster government’s decision to change the way funding of universities works in England. Education is a devolved responsibility. They won’t save any money either- it will be years before loans are paid back and some students won’t pay back at all and there are huge admin costs organising loans, collecting them and chasing debtors, with the government having to pay the money upfront.

  9. Utterly gobsmacked. So a postal address over the border will save you ~£1800?

    Wales (with their free NHS prescriptions) is looking more and more attractive.

  10. It’s not just the Open University – the cuts are impacting further education for those over 24 too.

  11. So far I have funded all my studies myself, however looking at courses the new fees – even with transitional fees are beyond my budget. Now I am looking at other options that don’t include Open University

  12. This has surely got to be the death of the short courses? I couldn’t believe it when I looked at saw that it now costs around 700 for a 10 credit course, unbelievable.

  13. Does anyone know of a cheap online university equivalent of ‘The Open University’. There must be one, even if it is in a different country there must be a cheaper alternative.

  14. Thanks for this blog (which I found because I had to search on Google to see if it was me going mad or if the OU fees really had been hiked that much).

    Just now logged into my OU account for the first time in four years.

    Looking to pick up a course which I’d left dormant due to new job (at the time) and starting a family.

    I’m devastated to see the new fees. Totally unaffordable to me now.

    I was umming and aahing about choosing a course for Feb start. Well, my mind is made up for me. Gutted.

  15. Rules for spreading payments have also been tightened so higher fees are not only problem

  16. This actually has me in tears today.

    As someone who had not been able to go to university after school, I started studying with the OU more than ten years ago while pregnant with my first child and not wanting my brain to go to mush. I started with the fantastic S103 Introduction to Science course. It opened my eyes, and I fell in love with Earth Sciences. I completed my honours degree after 7 difficult but rewarding years of study, and receiving it from Betty Boothroyd was an amazing moment in my life that I always remember with pride.

    Since then I have brought up our children and worked part-time, and hoped that our financial situation would improve enough for me to be able to afford to do my Masters in Earth Sciences (I was so chuffed when the OU announced they were finally doing that course…). Sadly since last year I am now struggling with disability, and have recently lost my job. It is the first time in my life that I have not been working at least part time. I am earning a little being self-employed, have never claimed a benefit, and am still not. Being at home so much I am desperate to do something with my brain again and thought with fondness of the OU. I thought I might start my Masters, or do a new degree in History. Foolish of me.

    The old OU that I loved and knew well has gone. I studied for the last time a few years back doing a random science course to keep my skills alive while waiting to do my masters, and was taken aback at how impersonal the whole thing is now. My tutor was lovely, it was the heart of the OU that had gone. The days of being able to ring up and speak to someone human who approached your situation as an individual was gone. Official rules override everything now and to hell with the inidividual. I remember years ago starting a course after the official closing of registration – I had missed the deadline but desperately wanted to do it, and given my previous study, the nice lady thought it would be ok and let me on. I promised to catch up the time (only a couple of weeks) and my books arrived three days later in that lovely cardboard parcel. I loved the OU back then with a passion, and recommended it to everyone.

    I can’t believe these fees. I had known that the fees were increasing and was bracing myself for fees of about £1,000 for a 60 point course, and was thinking of slamming my credit card with it and paying it off in bits. Ha! No way can I justify £2,500 when I have no real job, two children in school, and a husband run ragged working full time and covering too many of the things I used to do…

    I feel bereft. This is so so sad. I suppose I will could get out my old textbooks and restudy the old courses. But it’s not the same. I won’t have that buzz of learning something new, the panic point of the TMA deadline only two days away, the frantic revision for exams…so I probably won’t.

    What is there for someone like me? I want to learn from people who know their subject, care that it is delivered as well as possible, and care about their students. The OU was the only place that did that job really well.

    The England/Scotland/Wales fee thing is baffling and tortuous to someone like me here in England. Wales is just a short hop away, they have free prescriptions (could do with those too) and I could still study…. But I don’t live there, I live here, and Parliament gives Wales a rather large pile of cash every year which they can then choose to allocate to certain places. They have chosen to subsidise….good for them. England seem to lose out every time when it comes to such things because we don’t seem to have a choice of how to spend on things like this. (I’m not an economist. Clearly 🙂

    I can’t believe I am mourning for something I thought would last forever. As others have said, Harold Wilson would be incensed and depressed in equal measure. Sod the current thinking – the OU was indeed for us, the slightly older (‘more mature’ lol) person who wished to learn something new, for pleasure alone or for a future career change. Surely learning for its own sake has a value beyond pounds sterling? And for people like me who are very unlikely to get a job in the current climate, we will never afford these fees.

    The OU should never have tried to compete with the mainstream universities, because it is not the same. It is not redbrick, you can’t spend hours in the lab or sit in the refectory chatting with your peers. You can’t immerse yourself in a life of nothing but study and fun for three years. The OU was built for people who couldn’t do those things, those who worked full time, had children, we’re disabled or had just left it too late. It was a bit behind-the-times when it came to fashion and the latest tech, but it had the things that make a great learning institution – fantastic teachers (who were world leaders in their field) still teaching normal students, excellent resources, a reputation for hard graft, and quality students whose degrees meant something. Now it has fancy TV programmes (amazing in their own right, but have they prospered at the expense of the courses?), sharp suits, a fancy website, and call-centre staff to kill any remnant of personal warmth. And course fees that make you wince. And how are on-line resources that can only be accessed via a computer better than courses-books?! I used to carry my books everywhere and study everywhere. Highlighter pens and sticky tab page-markers were requisite. Staring at a computer screen for hours at a time, even on an iPad or somesuch device, is just not the same. And gives you a headache.

    There is no such thing as studying for fun. You can study for pleasure, for fulfilment, for the realisation of a dream…. Fun is an empty thing, it passes the time happily. Study is something so much more, that OU students (at least the old kind) loved and have lost.

    So I weep for old ways. I am 41, and nostalgic as a pensioner. 😦

    • Sorry to hear that you’ve just learnt about all of this.
      Take a look at the “Learning For Free” resources that I have found – you might find something random to get stuck into.

      • Thank you so much! I’m going to have a look at the OpenLearn short courses for now. It’s not the same, but better than nothing 🙂

  17. I was under the impression that existing fees only applied to current students until 2017 if they study a course each year, without missing a year. The English have clearly been betrayed by an establishment they created. I used to love the OU and did some courses with them, but now I consider it to be irrelevant.

  18. Though to be fair they still publish good books, but as an educational provider I now prefer to dismiss them.

  19. Is all you need an address in Scotland?

    If so could I use a relatives/friends address in scotland with my name and get them to send/forward me all the course info?


  20. Yep, not so “Open” anymore.

  21. So… I was wondering, because I was looking at the exact same thing this morning… I’m in England but I have friends in Scotland. Do you think a loophole would work by using a friends address in Scotland? Or is that too devious? It would be a huge saving!!!!!!!!

  22. I thought I would try my hand at doing an O.U. course. I have left it late in life but thought perhaps I could achieve some late learning?
    After seeing the prices forget it!!
    It is a very unfair system that does prejudice against the English. I can’t imagine the outcry if it was the other way round.
    And Scotland wants to go it alone? I can’t see Scotland being able to pay for herself on her own with all the grace and favour she currently receives.
    – Dissappointed.

  23. Yes we are paying international fees to a university based in our own country! Absolutely despicable. These attacks by the government on education, welfare and other core aspects of our society (that have hitherto made it relatively civilised) are pure ideological vitriol. They have nothing to do with money or the need to ‘make savings’. This country has plenty of money, it is being diverted to the wrong pockets.
    The goal is to physically, fiscally, mentally, emotionally destabilise the general population through the destruction of the NHS, Welfare State, our once world renowned education system, to name but a few, turning all into undereducated, dependent,consuming drones whose only goal in life, after working the life out of themselves on an insecure contract for a pittance is to be entertained, to the point of desperate hedonistic excess.
    This is where we’re going if we don’t stop this. Personally if nobody bothers to help stop it in the near future, I’m getting out whilst I still can!

  24. The fees are a disgrace! It is absolutely ridiculous that we have to pay 3 times more than other members of the UK do.

    Another option you might consider is the University of South Africa, which offers a wide range of courses and looks to be far cheaper. Well, that’s the UK’s loss.

    If it’s art courses you are interested in, The courses are less expensive than the OU. I’m sure there are more places worldwide that offer courses and you’re not going to be any worse off compared to the current OU prices.

    Having said that, what is stopping you getting a postal address in Scotland or Wales? Might need to be Wales if Scotland votes for independence.


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