My MP replies on the future for OU Social Sciences Masters

Here’s the response from my MP to the leter I wrote concerning the cancellation/suspension of all of the OU social sciences masters programmes.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might respond to this?

A response from Pauline Latham OBE MP
A response from Pauline Latham OBE MP

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Reader Comments

  1. Emma

    Interesting response, OU say it wasn’t advertised but I looked at postgrad courses before starting to get an idea of long term plans, therefore I feel it was advertised. Surprised to see it in cost terms too I was thinking the explanation was drastic cuts, doesn’t help us know what we are doing though!

    • tim

      I think it’s an interesting response as well. It’s one which to me demonstrates that either or both (the MP and the OU) have an incomplete understanding of how mature, part-time students think about and plan their timetables for obtaining qualifications.

      The sudden withdrawal of the existing MSc programme and its maybe/maybe not replacement with a programme that is not compatible with study from the previously available modules towards the qualification (that’s what their phrase “continuous study required” means in reality) appears to show a scandalous disregard for the longer timescales and flexibility we part-timers need when planning our studies!

      And what makes it worse is the stuff being promoted by the OU’s four in ten campaign today as a virtue of the OU – “Task Force highlights increasing demand for flexible online learning”

      I fail to see how the combination of the OU, the social sciences faculty and the mess the government is in over HE funding live up to the description “flexible” in the context of the social sciences masters programme(s).

      To paraphrase Ms Latham’s 1st paragraph, it appears to me that it’s the interests of the OU (as an institution) that are paramount in these matters. But at least she’s replied to my concerns. The VC and Dean who I wrote to at a similar time have yet to respond (and indeed, the VC failed to acknowledge or respond to the letter I sent him some months ago about the impact of the Browne report on the OU.)

  2. Nick

    Hi Tim
    First of all, thanks for access to a great blog and really useful OU Psychology notes. Much appreciated.
    In relation to your MP's response, I am no expert but putting the 'blame' back on the OU and claiming that HEFCE funding via grants and Government supported student loans has increased (or will do so) may be your MP avoiding the issue a little. I don't think (without researching it in any detial) that many OU students will satisfy the criteria for the loans made to pay the fees (as we are part-time students). Many Universities will be increasing undergrad fees to £9k to meet the shortfall in grant funding. In turn students meet this increase by borrowing via a student loan….. but not in the OU's case. Hence the impact on OU courses/funding may be more severe as, whislt a few hundred pounds a module may be affordable to those of us working or retired etc, a couple of thousand a module (to be found from savings or personal, private loans) suddenly makes things a lot less accessible.
    I'm not entirely sure how this affects Masters courses but thought I'd point out what may be a slight weakness in the bland and generic response you received.

    • tim

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the comments!

      I think your observations are pretty accurate. However, it’s not being a part-timer per-se which means loans will not be available, but it’s that many of us are ELQ students (taking equivalent or lower qualifications to those we already hold) who, in the latest FAQs I’ve seen from BIS and elsewhere, do not qualify for a loan and so will have to pay the increased fees up-front. This must threaten the part of the OU business model as being an institution providing a place to go for those of us who want to retrain for a second chance in life or who are simply doing it to keep their critical skills sharp!

      As for masters courses, the Browne report shouldn’t have affected them at all (in theory) as loans weren’t available for them anyway and the fees charged were largely unsubsidised. However, I suspect that there must have been some cross-subsidy going on somewhere given the speed at which the OU pulled its psychology (and many other) masters courses. Even some six months on since they made that decision, there’s been no further word from the OU on if the social science masters courses will ever be restarted in some form.

      As I pointed out in the post, at least my MP had the courtesy to reply to me. I’ve heard absolutely nothing from either the Dean of Social Sciences or the Vice-Chancellor in reply to the letters I sent them at around the same time. Not even an acknowledgement.

      With regret, the courses I’m currently taking with the OU will probably be my last.


  3. Kerry

    Has there been any progress on this since? It is so sad that things have changed as they have. I think I would have dabbled in OU courses for many years to come, but… 🙁

    I too had plans for a Psychology Masters and/or higher with the OU. 🙁

    • tim

      Hi Kerry,

      Despite sending a number of follow-on emails to her, I had no further response.

      Speaking with an advisor last year at the OU, it was suggested strongly to me that I should look elsewhere. I subsequently applied for and got a place on an part-time, distance learning, occupational psychology masters at Leicester. I had to defer starting it last October, but I’m hopeful of starting it this year! I do hear rumours that the OU might be looking to offer something again in the next couple of years – but they’re just rumours as far as I’m aware.

      The whole subject of postgraduate provision in UK HE needs sorting out. Last February, the 1994 group quite rightly referred to the system being in crisis. Their report makes sobering reading.


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