Association of Open University Graduates



Dr Natalia Kucirkova


Foundation Lecture

The audience at the lecture

Donald Burrows

Donald Burrows




Will Swann

Will Swann, Director Students

Malcolm White introduces Will Swann

AOUG Vice-Chairman Malcolm White
introduces Will Swann

AOUG Foundation Lecture 2014 - Personalisation in Early Years – Processes and Outcomes

The 2014 Foundation Lecture was given by Natalia Kucirkova, the winner of the 2013 Olga Camm Bursary. The ‘Personalisation’ of Natalia’s research refers to a book that is produced using photos, drawings and text specially created to make it truly personal to the individual child. Although some parents may know instinctively the effect on their child, research into understanding their enjoyment and the resulting aid to learning had not been undertaken and the benefits had not been realised sufficiently to find ways to give children with less academic parents these opportunities. The knowledge of her own enjoyment of ‘personalised’ books on her grandfather’s knee had led Natalia to compare the responses of children to these, as opposed to traditional commercial books.

Natalia had researched both in the UK and abroad and spoke about how young children responded to ordinary passages in paper-based books that were read to them and contrasted it to their response to personalised books. Her research showed that regardless of culture they absorbed more words from the personalised version than the non-personalised sections. Natalia wanted to develop the approach and make use of modern technology which is so much a part of the lives of young children today. In collaboration with The Open University she has helped to develop a free app that can be used to encourage children to create their own stories around their own pictures. This is called ‘Our Story’ and has already been used in schools at home and abroad by parents and teachers.

Digital resources offer much greater flexibility in the creative process when personalising the stories so that children are encouraged to expand their ideas, interests, experience and learning through their personal connections. Natalia had considered how this affects children’s motivation to read, their attitudes towards reading for pleasure and engagement with technologies. Natalia agreed with audience comments that the way a reading session was approached was an additional variable but that she had found that adults enjoying personalised books with children tended to share a closeness in the same way as with traditional books and that those who cuddled their child whilst reading a traditional book would also hold the electronic device in a similar way to allow for this same closeness. Thus shared, or paired, reading remained a pleasurable experience for the child. Natalia stressed the additional importance of this closeness and concluded by emphasising the role of teachers, librarians, parents and other care-givers in supporting children as they started the process of learning to read and expanding their understanding and use of language.

AOUG Foundation Lecture - "Handel in London – a documentary journey"

Now what is his proper name? Is it 'Fried' or 'Frederick'? Was his surname 'Hendel' or 'Handel'?

After a buffet lunch, on campus, on 4th October 2013 many AOUG members and guests took their seats for the AOUG Foundation Lecture. This year it was given by Donald Burrows, Professor of Music at The Open University with the subject "Handel in London – a documentary journey" He started by stating that he was proud to have been the first to obtain a PhD at the OU, and he is currently working on Volume 1 relating the collected documents of Handel from 1609 to 1725. It is anticipated that there will be a total of five such volumes and these will greatly add to information on the great composer. The most recently published book on Handel had been in 1955.

The speaker amused the audience by relating that some documents on Handel were held in Russia at No1, Red Square. Before access could be obtained a special protocol agreement had to be drawn up and agreed between the USSR government and the OU. Once access had been obtained it was found that the material was in an ancient script and it was some time before a translator could be found. Similar language problems were found with some related documents in Sweden.

Much use had been made of the many references to Handel found in the London Newspaper archives and some of these were reproduced for us to read. Amongst the problems arising from these records were that Handel would often change his name. At times it would be 'Fried' (as a German interpretation) or 'Frederick'. At other times Handel would spell his surname as 'Hendel'. During his lecture Professor Burrows let us listen to recorded music by Handel. It was very interesting to listen to the richness of Handel's "Te Deum/Jubilate" compared to the same titled work by the younger Purcell who died some sixty years before Handel.

A further illustration from the Newspaper archives showed how much the first performance, in London, of Handel's great work "Messiah" was appreciated by the audience. Sometimes it was found that dates found in the archives could not have been accurate according to other records. Another archive that was shown to us was from a letter, written by Handel, in relation to some stocks he held. In the document Handel makes reference to his growing annoyance at rival companies putting on performances of their own operas.

At the end of the lecture I, for one, appreciated some of the many difficulties the lecturer had met in attempting to provide the most up to date biography of Handel although Professor Burrows was quite happy to state that there will always be more facts to add to his research.

Ramsey Hertzog - Region 07.



The Open University – Thriving in a New World
Or "The times they are a'changing"

2011 Foundation Lecture by Will Swann

"The times they are a'changing". So sang Bob Dylan in 1963. Times are also changing for Higher Education in the UK and this is going to have a profound effect on all parts of The Open University, going deeper than anything else since its inception in 1970. Will Swann, Director Student Service at The Open University, spoke to AOUG members to show us where these changes have come from, how the university is responding to the challenges and what will, and what will not, change.

Two separate, though inter-related documents at the heart of these changes, the Browne Report and the Government Spending Review of 2010, are the major policy drivers, and every area of Higher Education will be affected as £83 billion is cut from this area of expenditure.  The government will not protect Higher Education at the expense of other areas such as the emotive topics of Health and Housing and Defence, which would lead to much criticism of politicians, and so Higher Education has to be expendible.
A key point of the Browne Report is that funding should follow the student. Willetts, in the Spending Review, is concerned that the enormous involvement of universities in research, much of which is published, is not matched by the quality of teaching, and therefore the Government wants teaching to improve. Thus students can shop around and go where the teaching is best. Universities need to take note of this if they wish to survive in this new climate; some may not, and many, such as Vince Cable, think there is too much complacency in the Higher Education sector.

The current Open University fees of about £400 for a 60 point course and about £5000 for a BA do not cover the actual cost; the balance comes from 3 funding councils. 35 % comes from the Higher Education Funding council for England (HEFCE) and 80% of this funding will go by the end of 2012.  Government money is to be spent on loans to students; however it is estimated that only 72% of this will be paid back, so the new plan may actually cost more than the current system. But the immediate need is to cut the deficit across the board and fees must rise from the current £3000 to £6000 or even £9000. There is a level of uncertainty as to how students will react, although the rise from £1000 to £3000 had no impact on either student numbers or their social backgrounds.

Open University Vice Chancellor Martin Bean has won the battle for part-time student funding, and students studying as little as 30 points, or a quarter of a full time course, will be eligible for a student loan.  The Government has sought to establish a market for students based on the balance between teaching quality and price difference, but this has been undermined as most universities have already set their fees at £9000. The Open University needs to be financially sustainable, but what will students be willing to pay? Will fees of £5000 lead to floods of students and a different cross section of applicants?
The decision has been made to stick to the original mission of being a high quality, pan-UK provider of part-time, flexible study for adults. The open access policy will be retained as will the commitment to disadvantaged students. Rather than providing only for an elite, the university will continue to welcome all types of student.

At present many students do not get degrees. In the future it will be important for The Open University to ensure that students achieve their study goals. Also a quarter of Open University   students are studying for an equivalent or lower qualification ( ELQ ) and are thus not eligible for a loan, although OUSBA can help such students to spread the cost. Will this group be willing to pay increased fees?
Will Swann explained that loan repayment will depend on earnings.  Nothing needs to be repaid until the graduate earns over £21000, and after 30 years any remaining balance will be cancelled. But students will be more demanding and careers will become more of a focus. Current students will not pay the full costs as Government grants will continue for existing work. Consultants have been used to set a marketing strategy and have identified four groups that The Open University will appeal to. These are 1) employed people aged 24-49 with no degree who are considering Higher Education; 2) people not in employment who are wanting to improve their prospects; 3) over 50s who want increased knowledge and skills; 4) Employed postgraduates in pursuit of knowledge. “Then you’d better start swimming, Or you’ll sink like a stone”

To meet the challenges set by these changes, The Open University will need to communicate effectively. It will be providing Access courses as a low risk route into Higher Education as well as easier routes to the qualifications students want. To make sure students stay, support will be improved. There will be continuous improvements to the student experience. Some changes are already happening, with a new academic year and many courses starting in October. Some modules will run twice a year, which will even out the work load for staff. Efforts are being made to ensure that each student is aware what is entailed in the study journey. Each failure is important, help will be in place for students who are struggling as each one who fails is important.
The only danger is complacency! “And don’t speak too soon, For the wheels still in spin”

In answer to questions from the appreciative audience, Will Swann explained that the changes would have no effect on the BBC/OU link. Programmes have changed very much since the early morning broadcasts of course material, which now comes to the student on a CD; now  programmes as Coast and Wonders of the Universe are produced in partnership and appeal to a wide audience. The university pays the BBC for this work.
Another question related to students under 21. This is not one of the target groups; however there is a small but steadily growing number of young students.