Thursday 16 May 2013

Effect of the Fees Increase at the Open University on me

I've been studying with the Open University since 1998, I used my Radiography diploma as transferred credit and I was awarded a BA Hons Open in 2000 after just three additional 60 credit modules.  I wrote about my experience in one of my earliest blog posts.

Since then I have continued to take OU modules on an irregular basis, with the freedom of choice to study anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, for a reasonable cost ... until last year.

While I was still working at Sheffield Hallam University I studied modules in statistics, mathematics and computing.  Since becoming too ill to work I find studying gives me something to do with my days, OU study leads to credits and a feeling of achievement, you didn't have to aim towards a degree or any particular goal if you didn't want to. 

Family History is fine, and I did do the Oxford University Advanced Diploma in Local History via the Internet (while I was initially working part time), but unless you sign up for an expensive long distance course from Dundee or live near enough to one of the universities that offer postgraduate study in local history such as Winchester, Teesside or Leicester (there may be many more but those links were just the results of a quick Google search), the only other option is the courses aimed at training professional genealogists and archive searchers such as the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies or Pharos recommended by the Society of Genealogists.

So I took a module in Cities and Technology (which was a different angle on history - looking at buildings and infrastructure), and one in Sociology (because my PGCE had given me an interest in it and I wanted to investigate further) and was looking forward to taking whatever history modules appeared over the years.  Both of those modules have since been discontinued, so I can't give you weblinks.  The family history modules I originally studied are long gone, the range of modules at the OU constantly changes, depending I suppose on what the academics want to offer and what is popular. 

Then two years ago they announced that from 2012 the fees were increasing from around £600-700 for a 60 credit module (120 credits is equal to full time study) to £2500.  Yes you did read that right, two and a half THOUSAND pounds!

I usually pay for my modules by instalments and although the payments have crept up over the years, not by so much that it put me off until I finished work.  This year I paid £93 a month for nine months or if you split it up over the year for comparison, just under £70 a month.  I had put money on one side from my redundancy and my mum has also been helping me out since my ESA stopped.  For that you get most of the books, plus the online guides, student and tutor forums, face to face tutorials and the support of your tutor and the other students, plus of course you get 60 credits that they can't ever take away from you.  Under the new arrangements students without a degree can get a student loan for the fees, otherwise you can pay by twelve monthly instalments of around £220.  That's three times the money for the same service!

The new fees don't affect people who are currently studying towards a degree that will finish before 2017 and who take at least one module a year towards that pre-specified goal between now and then.  This is called transitional arrangements and I qualify.  However it means I can't have a year off to save up for the next module, or just to have a change or a rest, or be ill ... I am also limited in which modules I can study if I want to end up with a degree with a proper name - I don't really want another BA Open, what's the point in that?  I could have traded in my maths and computing and the Cities course for a BSc Open, but was that any better? I decided to go for a BA Humanities.  I just needed 120 more credits from appropriate modules.

This year I've been studying AD281 - Understanding Global Heritage, and it's a doozy.  Not what I thought at all, all politics and legislation, very little history or contemplation of nice old things.  I could really do with something I enjoy more for my last ever OU module.

From 2014 the Level 1 module AA100 - The Arts past and present - becomes compulsory for anyone taking a Humanities degree.  I really don't want to do this module - most of the modules I've done have been level 2 or 3, with long essays, discussion, background reading and being able to contribute your own opinions at some point, even if it's just in the final assessment.  Level 1 is where you start, the essays are short and prescribed, the course is an introduction to the OU for new students - I don't want to pay £755 for something I won't enjoy.  But the only other option is A207 - From Enlightenment to Romanticism.  Can you tell I'm not thrilled with this either?

I really fancy a new module, A327 - Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity - which is a reincarnation of an older module AA312 - Total War and Social Change: Europe 1914-1955 which in its turn was a revamp of A318 - War, Peace and Social Change - which ran in the early 1990s.  The books for the older courses are available on ebay and Amazon Marketplace for as little as 99p and I've bought a couple just for interest.  Of course the new module might not be much like the older ones, the lead academic on both the previous courses was Arthur Marwick and he died in 2006 so I suppose the content is bound to have been updated to suit the new course team. 

It's not the first time I've bought old OU text books - I have a set of AA313 - Religion in Victorian Britain books, which I bought in a local charity shop for a few pounds.  Useful background reading for family history on everything from Non-conformists and Catholics, to Agnostics and Jews.

So here's my quandary ... do I study a module I feel I will not enjoy just to get the named degree? Or do I study the history module, which I think I can get away with under the transitional arrangements and then the compulsory AA100 the year after?  But that's two lots of fees ... and we still haven't sold our old house so we are very poor at the moment and I'm not going to enjoy that level 1 course any more in a year's time. 

Or do I just buy 99p (plus p&p) old text books from ebay so I can study history for the rest of my life and trade in the modules I've got for another Open degree and call the whole Open University thing a day?

I have a feeling I'm not the only person in the country, or even the world, when you consider the OU's catchment area, who is facing a decision like this about now.  Thank you Open University, for the last fifteen years (on and off), but just now I'm very disappointed in you. 

Update: In the last fifteen minutes, since I posted this blog I've received an email from the OU, it's AA100 or nothing apparently - that's not the way I read their website, so I'll try ringing them AGAIN! 

Further Update (an hour and half later): the advisor at Leeds thought I might stand a chance of an exception to study the history module rather than the level 1 module  - so I've written to the OU qualifications office to enquire about this.  Cross fingers.

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