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Keynote: Bean - The Global University a perspective on current challenges and future opportunities

Presentation at the Open University, 25th September 2009

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Gráinne Conole
25 September 2009

Live blog Martn Bean's talk today here, feel free to add to! The hashtag is #globalou. Twitterkeeper of tweets here. Stadium recording of session is here.


  • OU is about social justice and openness
  • How do we move towards a more international perspective, what will this mean? How do we balance profit with a social justice & open agenda

David Vincent

  • Education is a basic human right and should be available over the lifetime of a person; this know no boundaries
  • New drivers: i) explosion of need for education in other parts of the world – HE has a crucial role in terms of enhancing capacity and society, ii) technological innovation, from our origins using TV through today’s rich use of the Internet, iii) flattening of the curve of UK funding and expansion.
  • Vincent also praised the out going VC Brenda Gourley for her outstanding  contribution to the field and to the OU. Including reference to the work in Africa and contribution to the Open Educational Resource movement.
  • In looking for a replacement to Brenda, the OU recognised that we need a leader with a truly global vision, hence the appointment of Martin Bean.

Martin Bean

Welcomes those present and available virtually.

Starts officially one week today, humbling to be part of the next generation taking the OU forward.

Has spent eight weeks ge tting to know the OU as a designate VC.

The OU is often referred to as a national treasure, very special institution, we mustn’t forget this; the OU makes a difference in people’s lives.

Learnt a lot in the last 8 weeks, visit all 13 regions, did a summer school and an experiment. Reaffirms my belief in the value of the OU. Understand the level of dedication, enthusiasm etc, its truly inspiring. Have a theory of reflective energy – the reflection and energy back from staff about what the OU is doing. Also touched, gratified and awed by how everyone engages with the mission and philosophy of the organisation.

When you talk to our students and ask them to unpack the experience – it’s the personal experience that is what is most important – the support via the associate lecturers, more than the content. The phone call they get at the critical moment, for some it’s the tutorials and meeting with other students, others it’s the online engagement. The personal connection is key. Tension between quality and innovation. We are the envy of the world in terms of quality. But there is a tension – quality can be thought of as static or dynamic. We also need to appropriate the innovation as well. Also our research and scholarship informs everything we do. This helps create the quality, ensures the programme will be successful.

Also experienced how we have stayed true to our core principles

  • People – open to everyone
  • Places – wherever they are
  • Methods – latest technologies
  • Ideas – at our core we are about innovating

We remain committed to notion that our offerings are available for all. Pioneering work via TESSA and HEAT in Africa, work-based learning in Health and Social Studies – new technologies: iTunes, Openlearn, Sociallearn etc.

Our research has an impact on the world stage.

The university is in a healthy position today, but there are significant challenges ahead, continued economic slow down, and also uncertainty. We have to focus our efforts whilst staying true to our mission. How do we expand internationally in these uncertain times?

HE worldwide is changing and continues to change – globalisation, massification and privitisation.

Globalisation: Increasingly interconnected world: UNESCO report on global networks and academia. More than 1 in 3 students are studying in the private sector.

UK BBP holdings has been acquired by APOLLO from the states, so are planning to move into the European context. Their interest is return on stakeholder value.

Massification is a respond to the rapid demand to high quality workforce. Tertiary education has expanded in the last 30/40 years as a result. If this continues the impact with be phenomenal – particularly in china and India. Implications for the OU – need to tackle global inequalities. We have the best model in the world to meet the demand. High quality, opened and supported learning delivered at scale – that is our focus. Fits with our academic and social agenda

But we need to confront some key challenges. We need to reflect on the experiences from the past. It’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution. We already work internationally, now need to expand it.Five key areas:

  • OU Supported Open Learning
  • OU Online
  • OU Plus
  • OU Freemium
  • OU Services.

Have done important capability building in developing countries and major partnerships. OpenLearn launched in 2006, 5.9 million people have accessed it, 50% outside UK, youtube 1.6 million views, 80% outside UK, itune June 08 6.6 million downloads, 87% outside the UK.

“Profit and morality are a hard combination to beat”

Pricing content, pedagogy and support are the key variables we need to assess for international as well as home markets.

We need local expertise to work in new markets. We need to understand local regulatory constraints. We need to understand local cultural and linguistic differences. We need to reflect on the experiences of OU in North America.

Curriculum: very challenging in an international context.

The OU brand is not universally recognised and known. There are a range of imitators some of which have underpinned our provision because of their low quality.

Open and Distance are negative connotations in China.


Deliver new pedagogical and business models through OU freedom, building structured learning pathways – where formal and informal learning meet

Can establish high quality offerings in partnership with business

Can develop research excellence, develop our world-class research and link that into our platforms and provision.

We can grow our validation opportunities

We can target philanthropic organisations

In conclusion – strategic imperatives

Expanding internationally is totally within our agenda, but there are some imperatives. The only reason to consider expansion is if we can do it at scale and with quality.


  • Need to be proactive not reactive
  • Selective
  • Evidence based
  • Deliberate
  • A consious decision to succeed.

Extra content

From the OU's strategic directions report (link added above).

The University has agreed that it will operate in five business areas. These have been described in the following terms:

  1. OU Supported Open Learning — UK awards offered by the OU to students in the UK and other parts of the world (principally in Europe) through supported, blended open learning. This constitutes the traditional business of the OU.

  2. OU Online — UK awards offered wholly online by the OU to students in the UK and throughout the world. Provision will initially be at postgraduate level.

  3. OU Plus — UK or local awards and courses offered to students through or with partners who substantially augment and enhance the OU contribution. These will include organisations and companies drawn from the private as well as the public sector, operating internationally as well as within the UK. In the UK, they will include employers who will be engaged with the OU in the development of re-versioned and co-funded provision.

  4. OU Freemium — new businesses deriving income from open educational resources (OER) and associated services. This business area was previously called OU for Free and has been re-titled to stress the need to monetise OER in order to create a sustainable business model. It includes OpenLearn, SocialLearn, iTunesU and Open Research Online.

  5. OU Services — the sale of OU educational and research products and services throughout the world, usually on a for-profit basis. These are products and services created through the disaggregation of elements of the foregoing business areas and include not only OU course materials but also, and increasingly, stand-alone services, such as educational and careers guidance, credit rating and accreditation (where it is appropriate and profitable to do so), and academic consultancy and the licensing of intellectual property.

Gráinne Conole
06:45 on 26 September 2009

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