Since commencing BA studies with the university in the mid-1970’s until the last PGCE (History) assignment was completed and the last examination negotiated in 1996, The Open University (OU) has been something of a constant personal companion.
Studies with the OU have crossed continents with me, opened-up further opportunities for tertiary study, seriously stretched my commitment and endeavour, and paved the way for a complete mid-life change of career.
During this extended period of study with OU, I have remained grateful for the academic opportunities it has afforded me. So too, I have remained on the OU’s contact list, keeping in touch with the university’s course offerings, organisation and methods, not to mention the cultural programmes with which the OU is associated on television.
Most years since completing my final studies with the OU I have donated to one or the other of the OU’s appeals in order that the university may maintain its particular approach to tertiary education. Essentially, this focuses on the OU providing opportunities and second chances to persons, such as myself, who missed out on taking a degree earlier in life. As such, the OU has been described as one of the UK’s finest public institutions, “a powerful engine of economic mobility”.
Personal donations to the OU have always been given with the understanding that the university’s finances are being wisely administered and maximized for the benefit of students.
It was with some interest, therefore, that I recently read a short newspaper article with the heading Top marks for Open Uni’s selfless boss. The article opened with the following salutation: “Let’s doff a mortarboard at Open University vice-chancellor Pete Horrocks for volunteering to give up the grace and favour residence that comes with his job”.
Now, this information came as somewhat of a surprise, specifically, to think that any British university should provide such accommodation for its executives, especially in the light of the criticism attracted to the news that one university in south-west England had paid its vice-chancellor £808,000 in her final year of service.
However, with respect to the situation with the OU, it is reported that, in “selling Wednesden House in Aspley Guise outside Milton Keynes, the OU will raise about £2million and save another £25,000 a year to spend on students”. These sums represent a huge number of donations offered by former students such as myself.
So, at a time when university budgets are being strained in consequence of Government cuts and higher tuition fees, increased student borrowing and debt, Pete Horrocks considers it to be financially inappropriate for the OU to provide lavish accommodation for its vice-chancellor – for himself. Take a bow, Pete Horrocks!
It would be encouraging to think that his selfless example would be copied by university executives around the UK, but I am not expecting a stampede any day soon.