Forty years on

The Open University, where I’ve worked for most of my career, is 40 years old today. It’s come a long way since it was known as “The University of the Air”, when academics at other universities made sniffy jokes about our students getting pass degrees if they had black-and-white televisions and honours only if they had colour sets. I came here from Cambridge via a series of improbable coincidences and vowed to myself that I would leave when I got bored. I’m still here — though to be honest there are times in committee meetings when I have temporarily lost the will to live. But that’s true of all universities, nowadays. At its best — when it’s innovating — the OU is still the best place in the educational world to be. And I have some really terrific colleagues here. Also we have more iTunesU downloads than almost anyone else in the business. And there are some Very Big Developments in the pipeline — though you can’t hear about them yet unless you sign an NDA. Patience, patience — all will be revealed in a few months.

So now the OU is big and successful — and entering early middle age. And you know what that means. Ask Microsoft, which is currently trying to recover its lost youth. So maybe it’s appropriate that our next Vice Chancellor, Martin Bean — who takes up his post in the Autumn — is currently a Very Senior M$ executive! The old Chinese curse still applies: may we live in interesting times.