Open University: UK-Based, Regionally US-Accredited Online Bachelor’s Degrees

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ou200If you are interested in online college education, definitely read How Open University Works: An Insider’s Perspective by Manoel Cortes Mendez. The Open University (OU) is a public, nonprofit UK university that was founded in 1969 with a focus on distance-learning. I was not familiar with the OU at all before reading this.

In this article, I retrace my steps at the OU, from enrollment to graduation. The goal is twofold: first, to give you a sense of what it’s like to study with the OU; second, to highlight particular aspects of the OU experience that aren’t readily apparent from the outside, but that every prospective student ought to know.

The author earned a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the OU, spending a total of $18,000. He is now halfway through the Online Masters in Computer Science from Georgia Tech.

Unlike most Open University (OU) students, who are usually in their mid-thirties, I joined the OU in my early twenties. I chose the OU over a brick university because I had started working full time after high school, and I wanted to continue working during my university studies. Furthermore, I lived in Belgium, but I envisioned my career in the US. So I wanted to study in English and my degree to be recognized internationally. As it happens, the OU is one of a handful of UK universities to be fully accredited in the US. That settled my choice.

Here’s how that was possible:

Despite its unconventional mode of delivery, the OU is on paper a university like the others. More precisely, it’s a recognized body in the UK, which is british legalese for fully accredited. And it’s one of the few UK universities to also be regionally accredited in the US. So if after your OU degree, you want to pursue further studies in a brick university, you can. And this includes prestigious universities. For instance, one of my OU classmates went on to study a master’s degree in computer science at Oxford University.

In other words, a degree from Open University has a certain level of respect and reputation for high-quality education (at least in the UK) that is not present at many for-profit US universities. Would it be possible for there to be an equivalent institution in the US? How many US residents have gotten undergraduate degrees at Open University? I bet they would get more foreign applicants if they renamed it to something that sounds traditional like “London-Bletchley University”.

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  1. Open University is extremely well known in the UK and across Europe and has been for a few decades now. It is very common for Europeans living in the EU or doing expat work assignments around the globe to be doing an OU degree on the side.

    They seem to place a lot of importance on overcoming the hurdles of isolation common with distance learning and so students are connected to tightly knit study groups and travel periodically to meetup with their other students, teachers and the school. So much so that they feel a loss when they get on with their degree and move on in life. Overall, they really know all the pitfalls of distance learning and have had in place for a few decades now a system catered to these challenges.

    I have not done such or degree and I am not affiliated with them. I am an American who has been living in the UK and Europe for many years and have had many friends getting both graduate and undergraduate degrees from OU in professional fields. An OU degree is no cake-walk. From my encounters with friends studying at OU it seems demanding and yet engaging. Also many seem to be mid-career people who are happy to finally getting to study something they are really into and get their career going in the direction their heart really wants later in life while keeping their day job to meet responsibilities.

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