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What we can all learn from the Open University’s radical roots

Founded in 1969 for those who could not study for a traditional degree, Britain’s largest university is an important bellwether for our attitudes to education

Academics with kipper ties were many people's first exposure to higher education. Photo: Prospect composite

British people of a certain age have a shared cultural memory of the Open University. A lecturer—usually a man—appears on television dressed in an alarming outfit, standing in front of a chalkboard or behind a demonstration table, talking earnestly to the camera about particle physics, or the Reformation, or the Upper Volta rivers. This programme might have been glimpsed whilst someone was up in the middle of the night feeding a baby, or…

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