A behind-the-scenes shot of an early joint OU and BBC broadcast.Image copyright The Open University
Image caption The OU’s late-night TV programmes became cult viewing for students and insomniacs

The Open University, the UK’s largest educational institution, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

It was set up to bring degree-level learning to people who had not had the chance to go to a traditional campus, and pioneered long-distance study.

The university teamed up with the BBC to produce course programmes, famously shown late at night for many years.

Photos released to mark the occasion show the early days and tell the story of some of its current students.

Image copyright The Open University.
Image caption Regular Open University TV broadcasts were shown from 1971 until 2006

The Open University (OU) has taught more than two million students since it was granted a royal charter on 23 April 1969.

Lectures were first broadcast on 3 January 1971 on BBC Two, and course materials – including entire science experiment kits and even the brains of sheep – were sent through the post.

Image copyright The Open University
Image caption The Foucault experiment, recreated by the OU, proved the earth goes around the sun

One programme, shown in 1979, featured the famous Foucault experiment, which proved the earth goes around the sun, by hanging a brass ball from the roof of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The final OU programme was broadcast in 2006, by which time most of its content had moved to DVD and the internet.

More than 40 clips and full programmes from the past 50 years are available to view on the university’s digital archive.

Image copyright The Open University
Image caption Part of the OU’s first degree ceremony was broadcast live on BBC Two

The Open University came about under Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who said he had been working on the idea before becoming leader of the Labour Party in 1963.

The first degree ceremony was held at Alexandra Palace in London 10 years later, on 23 June 1973.

Image copyright The Open University
Image caption Arts minister Jennie Lee welcomed the Queen to the OU campus in Milton Keynes in 1979

Wilson’s arts minister Jennie Lee was instrumental in setting up the OU, and met the Queen on campus in Milton Keynes in 1979.

The new town was just two years old when the university was created and was chosen as its main headquarters because it had ample space and was relatively close to London.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionLooking back at the history of the Open University

The university has almost 175,000 current students, including more than 7,000 overseas.

Tracy Thorpe, 51, studied for her modern languages degree while working as a professional crew on yachts.

She features in a new set of photos by photographer Chris Floyd to mark the university’s 50th anniversary.

Image copyright The Open University, Chris Floyd
Image caption Tracy Thorpe spoke to OU course tutors by satellite phone in the middle of the ocean while studying for her degree
Image copyright The Open University, Chris Floyd
Image caption Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski earned a social science degree during a 16-year jail sentence for drug importation and is now working on a PhD

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here