The Open University (“the” is part of the name) is The place for distance learning on the planet. Located in the Southeastern portion of England in Milton Keynes (though that’s just the main campus, there are locations in each of the 13 UK regions as well as satellites in Europe), it was established in 1969 to allow greater inclusion in education, regardless of past schooling, financial state, or geographic location. A true “open university”, it allowed any who applied admission, utilizing distance learning methods of the time like “late night TV broadcasts, science home experiment kits, and residential schools” and teaching a first class of over 25,000.
Today, The Open University has increased ten times, bringing in distance learners from all over England, Europe, and overseas for a staggering student body of 250,000. By 1986, electronic delivery of courses and information was text-based online, but expansion continued as new methods and technologies developed (DVD teaching replaced TV broadcasts, the internet). As “named degrees” began to replace the Open Bachelor offered, followed by graduate degrees, and a worldwide boom in Internet learning (from virtual microscopes to online tutorials to completely online degrees), The Open University has “fulfilled its mission of openness in new ways, above all through makings its resources and materials available free of charge to a global audience” and stands not only as the largest European institution, but also as one of the largest worldwide.
For undergrads, The OU offers 60+ Bachelor degree programs online, with array of “part-time courses, at a variety of levels with several start dates”, allowing anyone’s schedule. Options range from Engineering to Education, as well as the “highly respected Open degree” with numerous permutations and creatable major programs. Entry requirements are more than liberal and though some courses require some face-to-face (usually a day here or there, especially in upper level courses), many locations exist throughout Europe and the UK, as well as locations here in the US. Courses are designed in “modules”, sets of classes/programs for a certain amount of credit, rather than individual courses melting-potted together.
Graduate degree programs include over 50 taught Master’s programs, and research degrees/PhD programs in another 30 areas. All programs are taught through “supported Open learning”, with all programs developed and distributed in house, using (among other things) online tutoring, advisement in whatever area the student is, and student interaction through online forums, conferencing, and social networking. Information and educational quality are stressed as highly as openness to admissions and the ability to work around any schedule.
Students are located everywhere from Africa, Eastern Europe, and at home in the UK, with many students balancing inclass and distance learning in locations closer to England. For such a large number of students, there are 1200 full time faculty, another 7000 tutors, and 3500 support/administrative personnel. Credit transfers from previous schooling is generous and ages range from late high school to late in life, as intellectual curiosity stands as the most important requirement at The OU.
The OU is also proud of its 12000 students with disabilities, students who aren’t able to participate in normal, face-to-face classrooms and are given the ability to learn without concern for their own limitations. The Open Admission policy allows students from whatever educational background (or none at all) to enter a respected college and work towards a degree accredited universally (it is one of only two UK universities to receive accreditation recognized by the US Secretary of Education) and receive a graduation ceremony no matter where they are (last year saw 26 degree ceremonies around the world, including an online graduation).
The largest supplier of law degrees in the UK, with a global student body (1.6 million worldwide have taken a course at The OU), and an annual 400,000 learning materials distributed to students anywhere, The Open University is more than any summary could summarize and stands as one of THE centers of distance learning.