As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, throughout November we will be shining the spotlight on some of the amazing men who have helped shape the Association over the years, and are a vital part of our history. Nigel Patterson has been an invaluable member of the OU Students Association for over 25 years. In his current role of Chair of Societies, Nigel works closely with the Student Community team – they have shared a little bit about Nigel below and the role he has played in the Association family.
“Nigel’s been a dream to work with as Chair of the Society Committee and in his other volunteering roles with the Association,” said Peter Turner, Head of Student Community, “His vast knowledge and experience with the Association is a massive help. He’s never short of an anecdote and is full of tales of students and Open University events from years gone by. That said, he’s not an old OU student fogey – he’s spot on when it comes to a forward-thinking approach to work that’s relevant to students today. He is steeped in the University’s ethos of being open to people, places, methods and ideas. His judgement is always spot on and, more than that, he’s such terrific fun to work with.”
Arguably two of the Association's biggest achievements concern the part we played in the campaigns for the introduction of the Open BSc and named degrees – things Nigel personally had a hand in. Nigel shared with us his memories of these triumphs…
“From the University’s inception it had been agreed that students could register for study with the OU without having to satisfy formal entrance requirements. Instead, all undergraduate students were required to study two foundation courses, each in a different subject area. These days, that would be equivalent to 120 credits, which is equivalent to one year of full time equivalent study. The terminology has changed over the years! The idea behind requiring students to study two different foundation courses was to provide them with a broad foundation for future undergraduate study.
“From its first year of teaching, back in 1971, the University offered a single undergraduate degree – the Open BA. That meant that a student who studied mainly science, rather than arts and humanities, would be awarded a BA rather than a BSc. Some students were concerned that a BA in, say, Physics would be taken less seriously than a BSc. And so – long before my time! – the Students Association began its campaign for the University to offer an Open BSc in addition to an Open BA.
“When I first began studying with the Open University, back in the 1990s, I applied to become a student rep and was appointed to the Examinations and Assessment Committee (EAC). In today’s OU academic governance structure, the role of EAC has been replaced by that of Qualifications and Assessments Committee (QAC).
“These were heady times indeed! The OU had agreed to introduce an Open BSc which raised some new questions. If the OU were to introduce an Open BSc, then which courses could a student count towards an Open BA, which to an Open BSc, and which to both? (Back then, modules were called ‘courses’.) Faculties were now required to classify their courses as BA-able, BSc-able or both-able. The Faculty of Mathematics and Computing (as it then was) played a blinder! They classified all of their courses as both-able. That meant that you could claim either a BA or a BSc in Maths – the choice was yours! This remained in effect until the OU agreed new academic regulations following the fee increase in 2012.
“Following the agreement to introduce the new BSc, the OU set up a working party to consider new rules for classifying the Open Degrees (given the new BSc and the consequent impact on the BA). As a student rep on the EAC, I suddenly found myself on this committee!
“The original proposal considered by the working party was that only BA-able or both-able courses should now be used in the classification Open BA, and equivalently for the Open BSc. My main contribution was to persuade the working party that this would be against the spirit of openness and the University’s founding philosophy, which provided for broad-based study. Instead, I proposed that students studying for an Open BA be allowed to include some BSc-able courses in their degree profile and similarly for the BA. It is good to see that qualifications in the Open Programme have continued to provide broad-based higher education to this day.
“Given the introduction of the Open BSc, the next obvious step was to introduce named degrees. The student case for named degrees was very much an extension of the argument for the Open BSc. Back then, ordinary students were able to propose, debate and agree or reject resolutions at Annual Conference. If agreed, then these resolutions became OU Students Association policy. Amongst the policies I proposed back then, there were some that called for the introduction of named degrees, but also on the condition that this would not undermine the Open degrees.
“But I was pushing against open doors. On the one hand, the Executive Committee of the Students Association immediately adopted my resolutions and asked me to move them on their behalf (the Executive Committee was an earlier name of what today is called the Student Leadership Team). And then there were academics within the University who were also keen to see the introduction of named degrees.
“Okay, so they were my resolutions, so it was reasonable for me to move them. So I stepped up onto the stage at OUSA Conference and found myself staring into the lens of a BBC camera! Oh my gosh!
“It is interesting to note that there are students today who follow most of a particular named programme, but would also include one or two modules that are not part of that programme, and so they opt for an Open degree.
“The OU has come a long way since its beginnings when it was able to offer but a single undergraduate qualification – the Open BA. Nowadays, the OU offers a range of different undergraduate qualifications including the CertHE and DipHE, as well as the traditional Bachelor’s degrees. And it offers a plethora of named qualifications in a variety of different disciplines. Choice has increased enormously since the OU first began teaching back in 1971.”