My experience with the Open University (OU), Part 1

If you are reading this post, chances are that you might be considering studying at the Open University (OU) and you are searching online for information to help you make your final decision. 6 months ago I was in your position as I was frantically searching to see if my potential £18k investment in my education was justified. I was particularly interested in the below points which arguably are what might interest most prospective students.

– career prospects
– prospects for pursuing further studies
– course rigour
– teaching quality
– general experience


Some Context
I believe that to a certain extent, the suitability of an OU degree will depend on your goals and your current situation, so I would like to share a bit of information about myself so that you can put things into perspective.

– I have enrolled for the BSc in Mathematics and I am currently taking year 1 modules and intend to complete the degree part-time over a period of 6 years (a full-time degree would take 3 years to complete).
– I graduated from a red brick university 10 years ago with a BA that mainly focused on management and I have been working in the financial sector.
– My wife is also doing an OU degree and her’s is in Environmental Science. This helped me make some comparisons with the modules that I am taking and the first point that I noticed was that the structures tend to be similar irrespective of the subjects.

My Motivation in Enrolling
My studies over the years have been focused on the subject of finance and while this has helped me so far with my career, constant improvements in technology, the boom (inflation?) in data science, big data and a lot of automation within the industry, has made me think that I might be ill-equipped for future job markets. There is no doubt that coding (at least within my industry) will play a greater role and that’s something that I have been working on separately but a lot of the packages in these coding languages rely on underlying mathematical models which might be hard to comprehend without a proper mathematical background. My goal was to be able to continue working full-time whilst gradually building up my knowledge within the subject of mathematics; this is what I thought would allow me to stay competitive in the job market.

Pre-Requisites
When you apply for a university, your application will be considered based on your A-Level (or equivalent) results, references etc. A benefit of a lot of the OU degrees is that they do not have these entry requirements which makes higher education accessible to a wider pool of prospective students. Some might argue that this might hinder students as they enrol for a degree that they are not prepared for; I initially was of this opinion but having taking a year 1 module at the OU, my experience has been that no prior knowledge is assumed and that as long as the students go through the materials and put in the hours, I believe they would be able to keep up.

Credits Required for Graduating
Students need 360 credits to graduate, so this equates to 120 credits per year for a 3-year degree assuming full-time study. In my case, since I am studying part-time, I am looking to gain 60 credits per year to complete my degree in 6 years.

Teaching Styles & Learning Materials
One of the main benefits of the OU is that you can pursue your studies remotely and in a more flexible manner compared to a traditional university. Once you enrol for one of your modules, you will receive your textbooks via post. You will also get access to the online portal which will have pdfs of the core textbooks and additional learning materials. Depending on the course, you should also have access to the online questions that you can use to test your mastery of the topics. There are also videos which are there to enrich your learning experience; these videos are by all means not exhaustive of the curriculum but are used for covering specific key topics or provide some real-life examples that might blend well with the reading materials. I would say that most of your learning will come from reading the course textbooks so if you are the type who likes just relying on watching videos or going to lectures, this might not be best suited towards your learning style. Having gone through the textbooks though, I would say that they are very accessible and have been written in a manner to engage students. Modules also offer online tutorials, which give students the opportunity to ask questions and to have a more engaging learning experience. Tutorials are scheduled to run at different time slots and are also recorded and accessible from the learning portal.

Tutors
At the start of your module, you will be assigned a tutor who will be available to answer your questions. I had a look at the profiles of most of the tutors in my maths module and I was pleasantly surprised. Most tutors have been teaching at red brick universities and are very experienced in their field.

Conclusion
This concludes part 1 of my post and hope you enjoyed reading it. In my next posts, I intend to focus on the below topics:

  • Assessments (TMA and ICMAs)
  • A comparison with red brick universities
  • Marking Scheme (this seem to differ compared to red brick unis)
  • More about teaching style and learning portal
  • Interactions with other students

I have only been an OU student for just under 4 months so these are my initial thoughts but as more and more universities around the world are forced to move their lectures online as a result of COVID-19, I personally think that a degree from the OU might be worth considering. If in the meantime you have any questions, please let me know and good luck with your studies.

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