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by Susan Stewart, The Open University (Scotland)
18 June 2024
Associate Feature: Delivering life-changing education

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Associate Feature: Delivering life-changing education

The story of The Open University in Scotland is linked closely to that of the Scottish Parliament, and in many ways, we have grown together over the decades. In 1999 we had over 14,500 students and now we have over 19,500 students.  

We operate in every parliamentary constituency with students from the Borders to Shetland and everywhere in between. I am particularly proud that the Open University (OU) is Scotland’s widening access university with more Scottish students studying with the OU than any other institution. 

We support students to achieve their goals with outcomes that open up new opportunities in life and work. We help employers across public, private, and third sectors to develop their workforces and build skills and enterprise. And across Scotland, we foster a community of over half a million learners who access free courses on OpenLearn or join our community programmes and events. All of this makes a significant contribution to the country’s economic growth and societal wellbeing.  

We have continued to make the case that education is not linear; people enter higher education at different stages of their lives and may balance work with study, caring responsibilities, or other commitments. It is the flexibility of studying with the Open University that makes us such an attractive and appropriate choice for our students.  

Each autumn I have the pleasure and privilege of presiding at our graduation ceremonies. Last year we saw over 700 students cross the stage to receive their awards. 50% of those students were the first in their family to study at Higher Education level. 30% of those students declared themselves to have a disability.  

While the theme of this edition is about looking back at twenty-five years of devolution, the OU has always been about the future and that brings me to Kirsty – the Holyrood Baby – and her mum Caley. Born on the Scottish Parliament election day 2016 in a deprived area of Scotland, Kirsty is now 8 and Caley is keen to get some training to find a job. At the Open University we can support Caley to realise her ambitions in life. With high quality supported flexible part-time learning, Caley can fit studying around childcare. Starting a new course can be daunting, and that’s why many students first take an Access Module helping them build their confidence and skills. We frequently hear our students’ motivation to study with us: 

“My OU journey is personal, to make me believe I can do anything I put my mind to but also that I am capable of great things; to be a role model for my kids…”

“Along came The Open University and they opened their doors and gave me the chance. I cannot explain the sense of achievement I feel and the value of proving to my kids that you can achieve anything.’’  (OU students)

Caley would be eligible to utilise the Part-Time Fee Grant  to cover the costs of her tuition, thus removing another barrier to studying. Introduced in 2013, the grant is currently available for students earning £25,000 or less per annum and has been the difference for thousands of students being able to study and fulfil their dreams or not. 

The Part-Time Fee Grant is one of the lasting achievements of the parliament with a legacy of students undertaking life changing education. As we look forward, we want to see that sort of focus brought to supporting part-time students. Education has changed over the past twenty-five years and the parliament must adapt and innovate to meet the future challenges.

We will continue to work constructively with parliamentarians to fulfil our mission ‘to be open to people, places and ideas’ and in doing so meet the economic and social needs of Scotland. 

This article is sponsored by The Open University in Scotland


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