'This door is alarmed': 35 years of attempting to widen participation in the UKOU.
Journal of Access Policy and Practice, 3(2),
The UK Open University has been in the business of attempting to widen participation in higher education for 35 years. This article gives a brief history of widening participation in the OU, surveys some of the issues involved including an analysis of the costs and benefits, and reports on the successes and failures of a recent set of widening participation projects. It concludes that whilst there have been some successes, the 'paradox of the title' means that the OU has not made the progress in widening participation that some of its founders had hoped. Nevertheless, the OU remains the largest single institution in the UK encouraging entrance to higher education for students with low previous educational qualifications, and its experience may be of interest to other institutions.
The OU's most important contribution to widening participation appears to be the production of access materials such as the 'Openings' courses, although there is still scope for community-based projects. However, the OU is currently moving towards a policy of requiring its students to have access to the Internet by 2007. Current evidence suggests that access by disadvantaged groups will consequently be greatly restricted to the point where the OU's widening participation mission may be effectively closed down and the OU will become 'just another university'.
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