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Celebrating twenty-five years of the OU Law School

Since 1998, The Open University Law School has enabled more than 60,000 students to realise their personal and professional ambitions of studying law, and our undergraduate degree is the most popular law degree programme in the UK.

As The Open University (OU) Law School celebrates 25 years of teaching law, we look back at some of our highlights.  

Most popular undergrad law programme in the UK

The OU’s Law programme has grown significantly and now has 12,000 alumni located across 57 countries, 11,500 of whom are graduates with a LLB and/or a bachelor’s degree in law.

In 2014, we launched the Bachelor of Laws with Honours (LLB), which has become  the most popular undergraduate law programme in the UK, designed to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed for a legal career and provide the foundation to take the national Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE1) in England and Wales.

Over time, we have broadened our curriculum so that it offers starting points for people at every level and our courses now range from undergraduate to postgraduate. The Law School has also developed a wide range of free online learning resources relating to society, politics and law, as part of its vision “to make outstanding legal education accessible to all who pursue it.”

In 2016, we launched the Open Justice Centre which provides free legal advice and education to members of the public and offers opportunities for students and academics to deliver the social justice mission of the OU. In 2023, it was shortlisted in the LawWorks and Attorney General Student Awards for ‘Best new pro bono activity’ for its Criminal Justice Clinic project, which sees students research and advise on live criminal cases under the direct supervision of a solicitor.

Impactful research

The Law School’s commitment to research and societal impact was recognised in its very first Research Excellence Framework submission in 2021, which rated two-thirds of the impact cases as internationally excellent and one third of the research outputs as internationally excellent (3*) or world-leading (4*).

Our researchers have gone from strength to strength, working on projects that align closely with the OU’s social justice mission.

Olga Jurasz, Professor of Law in the Law School, led the UK’s largest ever study into societal attitudes and experiences of online violence against women and girls (OVAWG). It was the first report of its kind surveying 7,500 adults and found that over one in 10 women in England have experienced online violence, while three in 10 women have witnessed online violence across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Dr Neil Graffin, OU Senior Lecturer in Law, received a £10,000 research grant to help humanitarian workers undertaking the search and rescue of refugees understand the legal complexities of their environments. While research by Steph Pywell, Professor of Law and Social Justice, helped pave the way for the possibility of ‘alternative-style’ weddings becoming legally binding in England and Wales.

High profile partnership with the BBC

For half a century the OU has produced programmes with the BBC, starting with late night lectures (before the days of video and online learning) and evolving into today’s prime time TV and radio shows – designed to engage millions of viewers and listeners with entertaining, informative, and educational content.

Our academics have supported on a number of high-profile law-related programmes including BAFTA-nominated series The Detectives as well as Catching Britain’s Killers: The Crimes That Changed Us, and The Prosecutors.

Inspiring student stories

Just as our academics use their knowledge of law to benefit society, so too do our incredible students and alumni.

When Anthony Brown first applied for university aged 21, he was almost deported. Decades later, after achieving a Law degree with The Open University, Anthony is using his skills to passionately fight for others affected by the Windrush scandal.

Law graduate Clara Collins was part of MTV Generation Change, which showcases OU students who are using their qualifications to make a difference to people and the planet. Clara experienced a disrupted education and spent time in care but is determined to use her studies with the Law School to advocate for others and said: “Regardless of any inequalities including age, race, gender, or disability there is always a way to pursue your goals. I found that with The Open University.”

Ambitious Zahra Alidina became the UK’s youngest ever Law graduate by her 18th birthday. Eager to pursue her dreams of becoming a barrister, Zahra began her Law degree with the OU when she was just 15, after finding she was unable to attend bricks and mortar universities because of her age. Zahra is now a fully qualified barrister with a Law Masters under her belt.

Honouring memories and milestones

Our 25 year timeline, showcases some of our key milestones since the inception of the OU’s Law programme. We introduced the first OU developed module in 2006, launched the Master of Laws LLM in 2011 and in 2020, the book Law in Motion: 50 Years of Legal Change launched, written by members of the Law School.

As part of our anniversary celebrations, we were delighted to welcome the Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC MP to our Milton Keynes campus for a special event. The Attorney General spoke to law students about the diverse routes into law and how the work of government lawyers impacts all aspects of public life.

Looking to the future

As well as reflecting back on the past two and a half decades, we asked students and staff: Where do you see the law in 25 years? We received some fascinating answers ranging from Space Law to the use of technology such as ChatGPT. You can read all about these ideas on the Law School blog.

Head of the Law School, Hugh McFaul, said “The Law School occupies a unique place in legal education as we were the first institution to provide a genuinely open access law degree. We have a huge amount to be proud of and much to celebrate and we look forward the next 25 years of providing innovative legal education and research which is truly open to people, places, methods, and ideas.”