Today (23rd April) The Open University (OU) in Wales celebrates its official 50th birthday and marks the first day of year long celebrations across Wales.
Across the year, the OU in Wales will commemorate the lives and hard work of all of those that have studied, taught and worked for the OU by telling their stories.
Events will be happening across Wales, including a series of Open Talks and an OU archive exhibition coming to Cardiff.
The OU, the UK’s biggest distance learning provider, has come a long way since its inauguration in 1969 and is as relevant, radical and open today as ever. Introduced by Harold Wilson (Prime Minister 1964–1970) as “the university of the air” the concept of open learning for all, allowing people of lower-incomes to access learning through books, TV and radio.
Shortly after its foundation in 1969, the first Director of the OU in Wales, Harfod Williams, was appointed. Since then, 213,863 students have passed through their virtual doors.
One of the very first students to join the OU in Wales is Dr John Evans. He completed his first degree whilst working two miles underground in the Cwmgwili Colliery in Carmarthenshire in the early 1970s.
He has since gone on to complete four degrees with the OU in Wales and a doctorate with Swansea University. His qualifications have enabled him to become a teacher, lecturer and writer.
John said: “I’m often asked what a university education has done for me. My response is that it has provided me with a view of the world that an ordinary working-class man such as myself might not have had otherwise.
“In my first session everyone went around introducing themselves and there were architects, teachers and the like. To this day I vividly remember how everyone stared at me as I said “John, coal miner”.
“Believe it or not, I equate the creation of The Open University with the creation of the NHS in 1948 and how much it’s made a difference. It has changed my life considerably.”
A special photography collection, titled ‘The Open University: 50 years’ has also been launched as part of the celebrations. The collection includes newly released archive images dating from 1969, as well as ten photographs shot by renowned photographer Chris Floyd of amazing students from across the UK.
Of those featured in the distinctive collection is Cardiff born Felix Asare-Donkoh. Felix graduated from the OU in Wales last year and gained his BEng (Engineering) Honours Degree remotely while stationed away from home. In order to study in the challenging conditions, Asare-Donkoh had to waterproof his books so he could continue to study in challenging conditions. He said of his OU experience:
“What I’ve achieved would have been impossible without the OU. The flexibility and support they offered me meant I didn’t have to choose between my career and my education. Because of that I was able to get hands-on, practical experience in the armed forces that has been incredibly relevant to my degree. It was tough at times, but every minute of hard-work was worth it.”
Louise Casella, Director of The Open University in Wales, said: “John and Felix are just two of the amazing graduates to have studied with The Open University in Wales.
“As well as looking back and celebrating all of those who have shaped the OU into what it is today, we’re also looking forward to the future and how we can continually innovate and provide open learning opportunities to all.
“Throughout the coming months, we’ll be celebrating a fantastic 50 years by telling the stories of those who have studied and taught with us. Our students and staff are at the heart of what we do and have grown with us over the last five decades. Now is their time to celebrate and shine.”
To share your Open University story and join in the celebrations, please email Wales-External-Affairs@open.ac.uk To get involved on social media, tweet @OUCymru and #OU50.