The Open University (OU) is celebrating the anniversary of its first graduation ceremony which took place on 23 June, 50 years ago.
In the summer of 1973, 600 graduates arrived in London’s Alexandra Palace to be awarded their degrees, an occasion that was broadcast live on BBC2.
One such individual was Michael Shaw, who joined his fellow pioneer students in making history by crossing the stage.
Fifty years since graduating, retired head teacher Michael shares how at 82 with an esteemed teaching career behind him, collecting his OU degree scroll is still one of his proudest moments.
In those days, teaching wasn’t a degree subject, so when I heard that the OU was looking for volunteers to test materials for a ground-breaking BA in Education, I jumped at the chance to get involved,” says Michael. “I took part in the trial and was fortunate enough to carry on and study for the degree I’d always wanted. Fifty years on, it’s my proudest academic achievement.”
Since the OU began in 1969, it has been a world leader in flexible distance learning and is now the largest academic institution in the UK.
The OU has had a unique educational partnership with the BBC since before that first graduation in 1971. Today, the OU co-produces a wide range of television, audio – radio and podcasts, digital and social content with the BBC.
For Michael, the OU experience went further than studying. He fondly remembers the people he met who were taking the same course, from all walks of life.
I met people I just wouldn’t have met in my day-to-day life, all ages, all backgrounds, and we supported each other. People might think that you’re on your own studying at the OU, but it’s not like that. The tutors were also there to support us.”
Professor Tim Blackman, Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, commented on this significant milestone in the OU’s history:
“As we celebrate 50 years since our first graduation ceremony, I am struck by the social movement The Open University has become, with over 2.3 million former students, from across 171 countries. Today, as the largest academic institution in the UK, we are drivers of social justice and social mobility at an unparalleled scale.
“Our graduation ceremonies are a reminder of the transformative power of the OU and the strength and determination of our students who have achieved their qualification often in the toughest of circumstances. Their determination and grit continue to inspire us all.”
When I walked through the doors, it was awe-inspiring. My wife came with me, and we both felt very proud of what I’d achieved.
I’m also proud of the OU. It’s an incredible organisation, which to this day gives people opportunities they would otherwise never have had.”
As part of the celebration, we are releasing a variety of nostalgic memorabilia including the first ceremony’s programme and a recording of the day and the presentations.
Find out more about the opportunities available through the OU online.