British Universities Open University

I’ve been an Open University student twice. Doing two completely different subjects. Both Open courses – which are like the Open Universities equivalent of foundation. Though I was told it was GCSE equivalent.

The first I did was Introduction to Maths, Science and Technology. Simple courses to get you back into the swing of learning. This course would be ideal if you are planning to do a Maths or Ecology degree. It might also be useful for science, but the major science covered on this course was about conservation.
You kept in touch with your tutor by phone – you have there number they have yours, they do all the legwork usually to establish contact once the course has started. You also have their address to send your completed assignments to.
The course compromised of doing two standard assignments called TMAs (Tutor Marked Assignments) these where mainly to help you prepare for the final assignment (though failure to send either in means you will not pass) called the ECA, these where not marked by your tutor but someone else (and are sent to the Open University rather than your tutor). When you received the results there is no grade, it just either says ‘Achieved’ or ‘Not Achieved’
The first TMA focused on Maths, though not to worry, as it was all practical Maths, imperial to metric, averages etc, rather than rock hard algebra etc. So my maths phobia coped quite well. The second TMA covered conservation. The final ECA had a combination of both then a final question that required the maths you’d learnt and the Environmental stuff. I managed to get through this with an ‘Achieved’.
This cost me 80 which is the usual price for Opening courses. Though I was given 30 back at the time to encourage me to finish it because I believe grants by the government are given to universities for ever student that finishes sections of a course.
This course came with – Opening Video, two books with two tapes to accompany them – ‘Thinking about measurements’ and ‘Our Living Environment’, course guide, assignment booklet, all the forms you need and the Openings bag (which you get on all opening courses, very good for sticking all your stuff together!). – See picture.

When I decided Ecology wasn’t for me I decided over a year to have another go at an Opening course. The 2nd one I did ‘Open to Change’. This course was pretty much a course that got you adapted to change, whether you where planning a change (i.e. going to University, career change) or you unfortunately had one forced upon you (death in the family, wife running off with next door neighbour etc.) This was quite an interesting course (though pretty easy) and another one where you spoke to your tutor on the phone.
The structure was pretty much similar to the first Openings course I did, except for my final ECA, which required you to do a project leading up to it. You had to decided on a change you want to make in your life then doing it, logging your progress, using all the ideas and techniques you’ve learnt from the three books you’ve been given. This was quite difficult because although I already had an idea what my change was, I’d already been doing it, so it required me to do a lot of thinking so I could re-write it all down and then fix it so it all fitted into the four weeks your supposed to do your project. After a bit of sweating and worrying that this course felt a bit too easy to be true, I got an ‘Achieved’
This cost me 85 (it had gone up by 5 since the last time).
This course came with an Openings Video tape, CD, three books – Facing Change, Looking Ahead, Moving On, course guide, assignment booklet, all the forms you need and the opening bag (again).

Regarding using the phone to communicate with your tutors, I can’t say I really liked this, quite often I felt uncomfortable (especially when I did the 2nd one when I didn’t really need them). Quite often we’d make appointments and I’d not really have anything to say, so I usually bluffed it by making questions up on the spot even if I didn’t really need to know. I much prefer a face-to-face interaction.

The Open Courses are quite simple if you’ve done quite a bit of education before and once you’ve got back into the learning pattern, if your someone who finished school at 15 then it might take a bit more work and a few Opening courses before you feel confident enough to reach the next level.
They are very good for planning strategy’s too you get two forms, ‘The Learning Plan’ and ‘The Learning Review’ one being your before plan – ‘What do you want to learn from the course?’ etc, one being the after plan ‘What have you learned about being a student?’ etc, you send these to your tutor, so they have a bit of an idea what your about.

I did all my research for the course through the Open University website. This is a reasonably easy website to navigate round, it’s split up into sections of interest i.e. business, languages, science etc or you can check out the list of courses starting soon if you want to get straight into it. There’s also a search function, which I found pretty useless when I was searching for something I couldn’t find but was certain was there. (Fortunately I’d book marked it).

The courses specify what you’ll require and what’s provided so if you need a computer it will make that very clear.
Some courses you may get a certificate for, others just points towards a qualification.

You can pay for your course online, or through the phone. I believe there’s also an option to split the payment up (which is good if your paying for a 500 course) and discounts for those who qualify.
The courses all have start dates (and when it ends is told on the website so you can plan your holidays round it, or think about if you’ll still have the enthusiasm 7 months later).
Both of mine started in November and finished beginning of March. I received a mailing of all my course materials in October (though on other courses you may have to buy books separately).

When you become a student you are given a student number, this can be used to access the website and check your own personal e-mails and message, there also stuff like online conferences which I never actually used. Plus there is things such as a course planner, where you pick out courses you fancy to make up your HND/Degree. I originally had it all planned out when I started to work towards an environmental studies degree. But I soon realised that home learning wasn’t for me. Though the degree was very interesting and it was flexible too meaning that you could choose certain bits (while others where required). When studying the degree, it’s split into three levels 1, 2 and 3 courses, with 3 being the harder ones for more advanced students.

The courses don’t get stale or stay the same old ones either, it’s quite regular where they’re adding new courses or taking others away and putting in replacements

Another bonus you get is a free magazine sent regularly while your a student called ‘Sesame’ it has seem interesting intelligent articles, letters page and pretty much general plugs for there courses.

If your disciplined enough, to get down and putting in the right amount of effort (without going over the top) then the Open University maybe for you. But if you have social, family commitments that your unable to sacrifice then I wouldn’t bother. Like myself you would probably be better off in a studying environment where you can be more focused on the task.
Getting a degree from the OU is also a gradual process – when I realised it, looking at start dates, I worked out that it would have taken me over ten years! Yes I would like to change my career and get another better job with both satisfaction and good pay, but I don’t think I could even have thought about working at the place I used to for another ten years.

At the moment there’s a pretty interesting looking course called: You and your money: Personal Finance in Context, which I know a lot of people could really go and do, shame they don’t teach stuff like that in school really isn’t it?

Just also add if you ever meet an Open U student (or know one already) please don’t be patronising and suggest it’s not proper studying for a proper qualification please. I had a few people who suggested just that and I was not amused!

How the OU helped me as a full time student –
Because of my dabbling with the OU, I quite fancied the idea of going to University, so this year I jacked in my job and now I am doing a degree in Sports Management – a course that combines aspects of Sport and Finance/HR/Marketing and other management skills.
Although I have only been doing this for a few months now I feel the skills I have learnt from the OU have given me a head start to other students.
Firstly referencing – this was a foreign concept to me when I first started the OU, but have adapted well straight away in my assignments to referencing. People who have come straight from college a lot can’t get their head round it.

Also deadlines – because of the way the courses in the OU where planned out it made me more aware of when deadlines are due and I planned my time better than other students who when the majority would just be starting to research I would have already done most my research and be midway through the assignment – go me!

Foreign students can join the OU but need to pay a bit extra.

Want to get a degree, want to improve your skills or perhaps you just enjoy learning.. the Open University may be for you.