I'm a visiting professor at OU, and dearly love the institution. It's a remarkable, multidisciplinary institution with a long history of educating people who've been excluded from the traditional university system.
The regional call centres are hugely important to the OU's success. They are the university's front line, staffed by dedicated, local people who help their neighbours to navigate the OU system, and connecting current OU students with alumni and prospective students, acting as a force for social cohesion in the OU's community.
My OU Computer Science colleague, Ray Corrigan, has written a stirring and important piece about the OU regional call centres' role in the OU system:
Understanding the OU deeply takes a long time. It is full of incredible people who care deeply about our students and who have repeatedly shown they will go to the ends of the earth for this place, even to the point of putting their own health and welbeing at risk. Staff in the East Grinstead regional office which was shut down by the University at the end of November 2014, worked evenings and weekends, even in the knowledge they would be unemployed by Christmas, to ensure the students were settled with experienced, well qualified-tutors for our courses starting last autumn. In the thick of all the complexity and accommodation of massive structural changes of the past few years, though, it's worth noting that fundamentally the OU is simply about putting people in touch with people, people who care.
Historically the OU turned a discredited education method – correspondence courses – into hugely effective supported open learning at a distance which, for over 40 years, has outstripped the personal support provided by most of the conventional university sector by a street. Through a combination of energy, novelty, creativity, mutual support, organisation, sense, care, goodwill, a following wind and the right people, we, by accident as much as by design, got a lot of the key structural things right in the early days –
1. The course production module – multidisciplinary concentrated teams producing intensely peer reviewed, tailored, self-contained, high quality self-study print, audio, video,multimedia and networked course material
2. The central administrative infrastructure needed to support production and operation at scale, on everything from exams to summer schools and associated logistics
3. The regional administrative infrastructure – essentially front end regional offices and operations – that put the OU in the local community and real people who cared in touch with the people who were our students; names and faces that students got to know and trust throughout their period of study.
4. Above everything else, the foundation stone that the place is built on is the deep level of care and the goodwill of the staff and students.
In praise of Open University people [Ray Corrigan/B2fxxx]
(Image: Robert Hook building at Open University Campus in Milton Keynes, Chmee2, CC-BY-SA)