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25 June 2009

£7.8 million grant for shared solutions to common problems in the higher education sector

HEFCE today welcomed the statement by the Prime Minister on the important role played by The Open University (OU). This coincides with an announcement by HEFCE of £7.8 million of funding to enhance the OUís national role, and is part of the celebrations of the OUís 40th anniversary.

HEFCE is awarding the OU funding from its Strategic Development Fund (SDF). The grant will enable universities to act collaboratively to improve student retention and deliver more flexible provision in the higher education (HE) sector.

The funding will be focused on three projects, all of which will be led by the OU with its national reach: Shared Returns, a regionally based student retention initiative; SCORE, a Support Centre for Open Resources in Education; and an Academic Partnership Hub which will move the sector towards more flexible education offerings.

HEFCE has been working with The Open University since 2005 to develop its role as a central resource for the HE sector, enabling the university to act as a catalyst for partnership and collaboration with other universities and colleges.

Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said:

'The success of distance learning, pioneered 40 years ago by the Open University, has been nothing short of a revolution for higher education. It has opened the doors to a whole new audience of students who have not only seen academic success but reaped the wider rewards learning brings.

'An approach to higher education which emphasises accessibility and flexibility has put the UK at the forefront of e-learning and to build on this achievement with a new £20 million fund to support centres of excellence for online learning. I am also supporting the Open University with additional funding to further its role as a national leader, working with other institutions, to develop distance learning.'

Sir Alan Langlands, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

'The Open University is a unique national asset, providing educational opportunities for people of all ages from across the country to study. HEFCEís funding will enable the university to take significant steps in promoting its expertise and resources to develop its national role in the higher education sector. I congratulate the university on its 40 years of achievements and look forward to its continued and enhanced role.'

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Lord Mandelson said:

'The Open University has been at the forefront of the distance learning revolution for the last 40 years and I am pleased that they will receive further funding to enhance the important national role they play, working collaboratively across the sector.'

'The potential of communications technologies to extend the reach of our universities is one of the most exciting aspects of higher education today. This is why there will be up to £20 million in matched funding for our universities to build on their successes ensuring we remain a world leader and become the first choice across the world for in e-learning.'

Professor David Vincent, Pro Vice-Chancellor at The Open University, said:

'The landscape of higher education and the needs of today's students are changing rapidly and in order to address these challenges, a collaborative approach is hugely important. Being open with resources and content has always been a part of the OU's mission to widen participation in education. We are extremely excited by the potential that these projects present for the sector as a whole and, most importantly, for students.'

The three projects

About 35,000 students a year in England do not complete their HE courses, and many are not currently aware of the options available to them when they leave university part-way through a degree. The Shared Returns project Ė initially run as a pilot in the north-west of England from the OUís regional office Ė will proactively offer students advice on continuing their studies in HE. The OU, UCAS and the other partner universities in the north-west will work together to give students at risk of leaving, or who have left HE, information and guidance to help inform their decisions. This may be referring them to other local universities, advising them of alternative degree course options or looking at what career aims they have. It is estimated that 10-15 per cent of non-completing students will be retained in higher education as a result of the project.

SCORE, which stands for Support Centre for Open Resources in Education, will be a centre to identify and promote good practice in educational technology and open resources. With todayís students increasingly technologically literate, SCORE will help institutions to develop new resources and services to enhance teaching and reduce the costs of course development.

The third project is an Academic Partnership Hub which will help to bring about cultural and organisational changes in the sector to allow for closer collaboration. Promoting and managing cross-sector projects, the Hub will deliver change and innovation to move the HE sector towards more flexible provision for students. In the future, this could see the provision of a flexible degree with both distance learning and face-to-face modules, and which would support a smooth transition between part-time and full-time education according to the studentís changing circumstances.


  1. HEFCE will allocate around £196 million to the Open University for teaching and research in 2009-10.
  2. The £20 million is from the Open Learning Innovation Fund announced on 23 June.