In April 1969, The Open University (OU) received its Royal Charter and the vision of a university that would open up education for all, was finally brought to life – largely due to the personal determination of the then Prime Minster, Harold Wilson and the commitment of his Minister for Arts, Jennie Lee.
Based at Walton Hall in Milton Keynes, the OU extends across the four nations, with alumni stretching over 157 countries across the globe. Since 1969, more than two million people have come through the OU’s virtual doors. From 24,000 in the first intake in 1971, the OU now has over 174,000 students.
No prior qualifications are needed for most OU courses – widening access to higher education to self-motivated and determined people who want to progress in their career. The University has a strong pedigree and heritage in working with employers to re-train and upskill staff – making the OU a key partner for employers looking to address skills gaps.
The University currently works with almost 2,500 organisations who sponsor staff through their studies. The OU’s flexible, blended learning is the perfect model to address recruitment and retention challenges, such as the shortage of NHS nurses. The Returning to STEM programme gives those returning to STEM-related careers the opportunity to prepare for employment around their current circumstances. An impressive 78 of the FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff with the OU as it continues to play a key role in a wide range of sectors.
Since 2016, the University has offered higher and degree apprenticeships. These work-based programmes allow employers to draw upon apprenticeship levy funds to develop both new and existing staff.
Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is working with the OU to run a degree apprenticeship programme to help it deliver digital transformation. Robson Grant is boosting his career prospects through the Digital Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship.
“The apprenticeship is very flexible. In two and a half years when I finish my apprenticeship I will be in the perfect situation,” said Robson. “I would recommend The Open University to pretty much anyone no matter who they are, or how old they are.”
Deputy Head of IT Applications, Ian Fabbro said: “The apprenticeship scheme allows us to employ someone like Robson who can come in, get an education from the OU, and start providing value straight away. It’s something that previously we would never have been able to do.”
Joe Harrison, Chief Executive added: “We want to train professionals as Milton Keynes grows as a place over the next 20 to 30 years. Getting people into work, experiencing what happens day-to-day in a hospital whilst they’re learning, is a fantastic opportunity both for the individuals and also for our hospital, as we attract and retain the best possible staff.”
Management skills are another important area addressed by degree apprenticeships. Tony Sleight is a team manager based in Milton Keynes working for children’s charity Barnardo’s. He is enrolled on the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship programme.
“I’ve already seen an impact of studying with the OU in my own skills as a manager, said Tony. “People within the team have commented on my progression and they’ve seen a change.”
Steve Woolcock, Head of Employment, Training and Skills at Barnardo’s explained: “We’re a national organisation, we’ve got staff right across the United Kingdom and we really needed a partner who could work alongside us, understand our needs, understand where our staff were and how they work, and provide the degree apprenticeships as part of that.”