‘Filled with Good Social Democrats’: The Open University and the Development of the Knowledge Economy, 1969–1989*

By Daniel Weinbren.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Open University was a product of post-war social democracy and corporate bias, which has been influential within the ways in which part-time mature students have experienced higher education. Its foundation in 1969 was largely the work of a circle of social democrats, at the centre of which was the Prime Minister. Its founding Chancellor called for it to be open as to people, places, methods and ideas and its teaching stressed that students needed to be active learners, engaged with the University’s blended multi-media pedagogy. It has also been a precursor of many elements of the knowledge economy which has emerged since the 1980s and 1990s. This should not be viewed as a dichotomy, but as two sides of the same coin for immanent within it were many of the ideas associated with the shift (experienced across higher education since the late 1980s) towards the market and the linking of funding and transparent auditing. An adaptation of Christensen’s model of disruptive innovation, which foregrounds business, illuminates this apparent dichotomy and illustrates how The Open University was positioned to be able to pioneer wider changes and to make familiar within the academy, generic notions of globalisation and marketisation.

Keywords: Open University, Distance Education, Christensen, Social Democracy, Social Constructionism, Fordist Division of Labour

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp.89-98. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 257.253KB).

Dr. Daniel Weinbren

Fellow, History, The Open University, Milton Keynes, Bucks, UK

Dr. Daniel Weinbren is researching the history of The Open University, UK. He has published extensively in the UK, Germany and Australia on mutual aid and fraternities. He has also written about virtual heritage, the roles of families and oral testimony.

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