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Source: (consider it) Thread: OU degrees?
mr cheesy
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Here are some random questions which would be helpful data for our family situation:

1. Do you have an Open University degree? If so, did it help you in your future employment? Did it hold you back compared to a brick university degree?

2. If you are an employer, how do you rate an OU degree compared to a brick (for the sake of discussion, non-Oxbridge) university degree (assuming it is a relevant subject and the same grades)? Would you consider it less favourably than a brick degree?

Thanks for any comments and thoughts.

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mark_in_manchester

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I can't answer your questions directly, but I do have some (I hope) useful comments.

I used to run an MSc course in a peculiar corner of engineering which was delivered partly to FT and PT attending students, and partly to distance-learning students, some of whom might be in the far east or USA and never attend the university.

Preparing distance materials properly, and properly supporting distance learners, is up-front expensive and difficult. The OU do it better than anyone else in the UK, ourselves included.

Our course was heavily mathematical, and I used to get a lot of enquiries from BSc (and sometime BA) grads whose maths wasn't up to it. Because preparing our own preparatory maths materials for PT distance study would have been expensive - and even for those who wanted to attend, I didn't want them to uproot themselves and come here before I was confident I was going to be able to get them through our course at a good level of performance - I made them sit one or two OU engineering math modules as a kind of access course.

All those who came that way did well, despite having a shaky mathematical background up to starting with the OU. All spoke very highly of the OU materials and support they had bought in to.

So my impression from dealing with them is they're good, and a much safer bet that a dodgy degree from a 'with attendance' institution in the lower reaches of the UK HE league, which ironically is the kind of institution I myself was (and sometimes still am) working for.

(Incidentally, commercial pressures mean the course I used to run is being gutted of content to make it possible to recruit all-comers with no math preparation. And commercial pressures meant the OU stopped offering stand-alone modules, in preference for students who would sign up to an entire course delivered by themselves. So 'doing the right thing' became impossible, which is one reason I am now semi-detached from HE!).

cheers
Mark

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Jane R
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This is not really relevant to your inquiry, but my dad did an OU degree in the days when it was possible to go into teaching without a degree, but non-graduate teachers got paid less. It certainly did help him in his career but it was a lot of hard work.

As someone who has done a (PG diploma-level) qualification through distance learning, I know that it's not a soft option.

I am not au fait with the latest shibboleths of employers, but I suspect that they lump all universities that aren't Oxford or Cambridge together. You'd probably have to explain why you chose the OU instead of a traditional bricks-and-mortar university in your job interview, but that's all part of selling yourself.

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Jack the Lass

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My first degrees were at brick unis, but I did my Masters degree with the OU, and I was also a tutor for some of their undergraduate courses for a few years. I did the Masters while working full time, and have to say it was bloody hard work, and I found I used quite a lot of annual leave to be able to find the time to write essays etc. But, it helped me to be more credible when I applied for my PhD, and I think that if I needed to I would be able to sell it as showing commitment, good time management etc, quite apart from the value of the course itself (which was excellent). I loved being an OU student, and am very proud of my degree. I did though come across a number of people in traditional universities who are very snobby about them - I suspect that would be more of an issue in academia than with plenty of other employers.

My experience as a tutor (on level 1 and level 2 courses) was that those people with a bit more life experience behind them tended to get on a bit better with applying themselves to study. It is hard work studying on your own, and although lots of the courses do do face to face* tutorials (or phone tutorials), and have online discussion forums, the vast majority of it is you at home working your way through the course materials, and when everyone else around you is having down time after work, or planning nights out, it can be very lonely, or very tempting to get behind. Once you get behind it can be difficult to catch up.

A tip if you decide to go for it: the course details for each separate course should say when they are expecting the course to run up till. If it says that it is not going to be run beyond (say) next year, then it is likely that the course material will be quite dated, and also likely that an updated version of the course will be run a year or two later. Similarly, if it is the very first time that the module has been run then the chances are that there will be teething problems which students always found really frustrating. Your best bet is to go for courses that have been run a couple of times before, as the worst teething problems will have been ironed out, and the material will still be up to date.

* having said lots have face to face tutorials, they seem to be moving towards more remote working, so your tutor for a particular course may not be in your region, in which case face to face tutorials are unlikely to be put on and they're more likely to be video/phone tutorials.

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Garden Hermit
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I have 3.5 courses passed with the OU. I have no degree but it gave me a lot of confidence and a 'real' education into things in life like Shakespeare and Renaisance Art. I am really grateful that I did it and had the benefit of 4 OU Summer Schools. Go for the Education - not the Degree.
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Sarasa
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I have an OU degree and RS and Creative Writing diplomas. I'm still involved as I mod some of the student forums, but haven't actually studied for a while.
I did the degree for personal reasons rather than work ones, but it certainly helped give me a much more academic way of approaching problems at work. I've always understood that employers are impressed by people who study under their own stram while doing other jobs, but I don't know how true it is.
I'd be doing the Masters in Creative Writing if it wasn't so expensive.
Agree with what JtL said about courses reaching the end of their lives - they tend to be slightly less relevant than more recent ones, but then I guess it depends on what you are studying,. i started out doing maths and I geuss that doesn't date as much as Religious Studies which is what I moved onto.

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St. Gwladys
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I have a social work degree.with OU, which was sponsored by the local authority I worked for. I enjoyed the course, but there were areas of social work practise which weren't covered, and I found I would have benefitted from other units rather than the ones I chose - mental health rather than children's work.
I enjoyed most of the course though.

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Helen-Eva
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My experience from the world of work is that OU degrees are rated no differently to other degrees and the University itself is at least mid-table in terms of how much respect it gets relative to other Unis. Oxbridge and the Russell Group Unis get you most kudos, nearly-polytechnics that have only existed for 20 mins the least, OU somewhere in the middle probably about equivalent to mid ranking red brick. I could be wrong - these are just perceptions - but I really don't think anyone would write off an OU degree just because it was distance learning.

I've got an OU diploma in Natural Sciences as well as degrees from other Universities. I found the OU fairly stretching and it needed more commitment (more than being physically at a University - and that plays well with employers).

There are Level 1 courses in general arts and general sciences which you might do to get a feel for if you (or the family member) like it.

Good luck!

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mr cheesy
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Thanks for these comments - it is for my thinking-ahead-about-uni teen not me (I already have two degrees, can't afford more).

My teen knows that it is hard work, but they're pretty good at application and I think would probably be suited to distance learning. They're also keen to get some work experience and like the flexibility of OU compared to other degrees.

But I've never studied with the OU or me anyone who has done one, so it is all outside of my experience.

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Doone
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I pretty much agree with the above. I completed several units, as part of CPD, and they certainly helped my career progression. The materials and support were excellent. The benefits include demonstrating self reliance, motivation and time management in particular. Obviously, the disadvantages include lack of opportunities from working, face to face, with others and the advantages this can bring. I worked in further education and am unaware of any discrimination for OU degrees, quite the opposite in some circles, though the top universities will almost always trump others, especially Oxbridge.
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Sipech
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I approach this from the perspective of a prospective employer who employs those with post qualifications and experience. I'm not involved in the graduate recruitment process.

My own degree was in mathematics. When I looked at the maths courses at the OU, what they were offering as part of the 3rd (final) year of their degree was what I was doing at the start of my 2nd year. This was what we referred to as a "solid bedding" - subjects that were key to forming the basis of a good mathematical education. But for the OU course, that was the pinnacle; there didn't appear to be opportunity to go on and apply or develop those ideas in other settings.

The impression that left me was that an OU degree was more basic than those from my alma mater. If you had a particularly prejudiced prospective employer (and yes, they do exist, I've seen/heard some terrible things) then it may be a hindrance. However, in my line of work the obtaining of a degree only tells you so much. Namely, that they can work hard, articulate an understanding of difficult ideas and can adapt to new/challenging demands.

Perhaps of more concern would be what a prospective graduate recruiter might think. You should certainly be prepared to answer the question "why the OU and not a more traditional university" - which is actually variation on a question that comes up nomatter what university you went to.

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North East Quine

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I did my first degree at a traditional university.

I did my second undergraduate degree through the O.U. I started the Arts Foundation Course when I was 8 3/4 months pregnant with my first child. I was pregnant for the fourth time when I graduated. It was ideal, as I could fit it round my family in a way that would have been impossible with a conventional university. I didn't attend any summer schools because I was either pregnant and / or breastfeeding for all but 6 weeks of the degree. One course had so few enrolled that the nearest tutor was in Ireland, and so I had no direct contact with the tutor nor did I attend any tutorials that year.

I graduated with a 2:1 and was able to go on to do a Masters and a PhD through a conventional university.

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Baptist Trainfan
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That is seriously impressive! I take my hat off to anyone who does a degree - OU or other - while carrying on with "normal" life and work. [Overused]
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Helen-Eva
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# 15025

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quote:
Originally posted by mr cheesy:
Thanks for these comments - it is for my thinking-ahead-about-uni teen not me (I already have two degrees, can't afford more).

I'm sure you've already done all the thinking about how the OU experience is different to the traditional student one and how actually living away from home with other students offers an 18-year-old an experience they won't get elsewhere. Also plenty of OU students are the recently retired doing more study for interest so it will be a very different social group to the one an 18-year-old would get in another university.

Building on the comment about graduate recruiters, I think they start off by asking for a 2:1 without really worrying about where it's from. No 2:1 - application in the bin; with 2:1 (even from the Enid Blyton College of Applied Bandages, as m'late father used to put it) and you get through the sift. What happens next is probably down to the prejudices of the recruiter.

All universities vary in quality in individual subjects - if you want to be an academic in (say) Maths, then you need to find the small number of places with the top reputation in that subject and go there. But that probably brings us back to Oxbridge/Russell Group.

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Leorning Cniht
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# 17564

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quote:
Originally posted by Helen-Eva:

All universities vary in quality in individual subjects - if you want to be an academic in (say) Maths, then you need to find the small number of places with the top reputation in that subject and go there.

Not quite true. I knew a chap who had a couple of very ordinary A-levels, and as a consequence was only able to gain admission to a very ordinary university to study maths.

He made a success of his undergraduate studies, and was admitted to read for a D.Phil. at a rather prestigious university, and went on to get a postdoc job. I've rather lost touch, so I don't know whether he stayed in academia or was seduced by the rather larger wages available elsewhere, but it's certainly possible. Not as easy as starting off as an Oxbridge undergraduate, but not impossible.

As far as candidates I'm interviewing for employment go, we get some applicants with what I would call "normal" backgrounds - good school results, good degree from decent university and so on, and some with a rather more unusual story. I'm usually looking for a bit more explanation as to why they took the route they took from this latter group, but there are often excellent candidates in there. In particular, young people who have taken a less normal route to acquire an education tend to be more self-reliant and require less hand-holding.

If I was looking at a candidate who hadn't ever lived away from home - perhaps had taken an OU degree to avoid having to live away form home - I might have concerns about the maturity and life skills that that candidate would have, and I'd be looking for some evidence that the candidate could stand on his or her own as an independent person. So I'd advise someone in that position to consider how to not come over as a Mummy's boy/girl.

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mr cheesy
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# 3330

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quote:
Originally posted by Helen-Eva:
I'm sure you've already done all the thinking about how the OU experience is different to the traditional student one and how actually living away from home with other students offers an 18-year-old an experience they won't get elsewhere. Also plenty of OU students are the recently retired doing more study for interest so it will be a very different social group to the one an 18-year-old would get in another university.

Yes. My teen has produced a weighted table of advantages vs disadvantages of doing the OU. I think it is fair to say that they're very aware of the disadvantages, particularly the social side.

quote:
Building on the comment about graduate recruiters, I think they start off by asking for a 2:1 without really worrying about where it's from. No 2:1 - application in the bin; with 2:1 (even from the Enid Blyton College of Applied Bandages, as m'late father used to put it) and you get through the sift. What happens next is probably down to the prejudices of the recruiter.
I suppose it depends exactly what a "graduate" job is - and will be in the coming years. Various people I've asked have various responses (of course) ranging from those who say that they take very little account of a degree through to those who want to know that candidates have the best A-levels and have been to the very best university courses.


quote:
All universities vary in quality in individual subjects - if you want to be an academic in (say) Maths, then you need to find the small number of places with the top reputation in that subject and go there. But that probably brings us back to Oxbridge/Russell Group.
For sure. I suppose my feeling is that the game has changed in the last few years - including having had discussions with my peers who say that they'd not today employ themselves (ie with the degree, experience etc that they had when they left university when we graduated decades ago).

Which is something about qualification inflation, but also about work experience, social intelligence and boxes ticked on bits of paper.

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by Leorning Cniht:

If I was looking at a candidate who hadn't ever lived away from home - perhaps had taken an OU degree to avoid having to live away form home - I might have concerns about the maturity and life skills that that candidate would have, and I'd be looking for some evidence that the candidate could stand on his or her own as an independent person. So I'd advise someone in that position to consider how to not come over as a Mummy's boy/girl.

That's a good point. My teen wants to leave home*, they're just thinking that they're not wanting to go to a brick university.

*and to be frank, we've just about had enough of them**

** not really

[ 27. April 2017, 16:27: Message edited by: mr cheesy ]

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Schroedinger's cat

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From an employment perspective, the only things I would consider are a) the class of degree (mainly if it was a first or not) and b) whether it was Oxbridge.

I have interviewed people with degrees from all sorts of foreign universities, so would look wider at their experience as well - the particular institution would not impact me greatly.

There again, I had my first degree from a brick uni, one of the pre-polytechnic ones, but not considered a great one (I loved it).

My second and current ones are from a new ex-poly uni. But I don't think it really matters. The standards are the same.

the only question I would ask an OU student is why they chose that uni - did they have a good reason that they didn't want to leave home - more because I would want to know if there is something that might impact their working ability.

Having said all of that, some places are snobby about universities. I am not sure I would want to work for them. I have seen them advertising as "a first or upper second from a good university". But I don't think it makes a difference unless you are hoping for a major, high-flying role.

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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This is apparently an UK-centric thing. But may I ask, is "OU" the same as what we describe as distance education or online degrees? Or do you actually have universities accredited to provide degrees but some are considered substandard in some way?

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by no prophet's flag is set so...:
This is apparently an UK-centric thing. But may I ask, is "OU" the same as what we describe as distance education or online degrees? Or do you actually have universities accredited to provide degrees but some are considered substandard in some way?

The Open University in the UK was set up in 1965 with an open-access remit (no qualifications needs to matriculate and lots of access courses to bring people up to required levels). The courses are largely via the internet or distance learning, but there might be a distinction from what one might think of as an "online" degree.

Unlike other providers, the Open University is a fully accredited university in the UK and is able to give full degrees.

I think the equivalent in Canada is Athabasca University - although I don't know anything about how respected that is as an institution.

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Jay-Emm
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quote:
Originally posted by Sipech:

...

Just about finishing one, I'd say something similar.
Although it is hard to compare. The level 3 Maths still quite often would come to bits we came to in 2nd Year Physics Maths, (which was quite handy, as you knew the destination), but it would have been better imbedded as a structure rather than a technique I didn't really know how to use.
Because of the modular structure there was over repetition (I think they were changing that, which loses the flexibility, you can't win, and makes the exams much more intense).

One example, of the difficulties, would be RSA, which we had a do it (for tiny tiny primes) by hand once early at Brick Uni, once in an early module at OU (I can't remember the context), and then once in the level 3 pure maths where you had also did elliptic curves (to a very basic standard), realizing that the exponentiation required scaled so much more easily than you'd expect, and a better understanding of the modula stuff behind it.

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agingjb
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My original education ended in tears in 1960 (just escaped the looming National Service). So just fairish A-levels.

My employers suggested that my career would benefit from a degree, so in 1971 I enrolled on the OU when it started, and after a few years acquired a 2-1, essentially in Maths.

My employers (IBM no less, who did pay, although I would have been prepared to fund myself) took two years to put my new qualifications into their records - and it had no discernable effect on my career, which was mainly driven my capacity to write computer programs.

The OU was always a way of studying intensively but part time. It was then only available to over 21s. This may have changed. I found it incomparably the most effective way to learn.

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Leorning Cniht
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quote:
Originally posted by no prophet's flag is set so...:
This is apparently an UK-centric thing. But may I ask, is "OU" the same as what we describe as distance education or online degrees? Or do you actually have universities accredited to provide degrees but some are considered substandard in some way?

Mr. Cheesy has described the Open University. To your last question, we do indeed have universities accredited to award degrees that are considered differently from others. Different universities are more or less academically selective; a degree from a more selective institution has more prestige than the same degree from a less selective institution, even though the standards are nominally the same (and external examiners on exam boards attempt to keep the standards level.)

So does the US - a degree from Harvard or Caltech is worth more than a degree from East Cornfield State University.

Whether the difference between a high-status and low-status university is important depends a lot on what market you're in.

There is room for debate over to what degree preferring high-status universities is about getting more able candidates, vs to what extent it's about getting the right sort of chap who knows which cutlery to use for the fish course.

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no prophet's flag is set so...

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Thanks for the clarification. What we have is a much reduced stratification among Canadian universities. Most of which are publicly funded and designated by acts of provincial legislatures. Thus, if someone has a BA, MSc or PhD from McGill, UBC, or Brandon, we know that they are roughly equivalent and the specifics of the person are much more important than where the degree was from.

The "open" part is typically handled by these same universities. Anyone over some certain age, regardless of prior education may register and take a limited number of courses, and if successful may go on to become a full time student and get a degree. I have several friends in various degrees who never had finished highschool yet had university degrees, including one who is a prof.

There's one local person who works in my field with a graduate degree from Harvard. It doesn't really impress on the the local scene, except that if raised it is generally denigrated as hoidy-toidy and no-one is impressed. -- It's one of the things in the prairie provinces more in general.

[ 27. April 2017, 20:02: Message edited by: no prophet's flag is set so... ]

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mark_in_manchester

not waving, but...
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quote:
even though the standards are nominally the same (and external examiners on exam boards attempt to keep the standards level.)

That isn't really true any more in the UK. An institution (senior management level) starts by working out how much money it wants to make out of a department (more than it currently does, of course) - and has a think about where that's going to come from - teaching, research, commercial work. We're talking about the first. The department then decides how many students make their course quorate, given the financial demands of their institution. The department then drops grade level entry until that course is full. If the institution is well regarded and flush with applicants, it won't have to drop it far.

Otherwise...it will drop it to the point where the resulting students will fail en-masse, and so it has to also gut the course content - there will be a lot of pressure not to fail students, in order to continue to charge them fees in year 2 and 3.

The feedback paths for this process to employers are weak-ish, but in the end they start to say 'if the applicant is not from x or y, throw the cv in the bin - they won't know anything'. The feedback path to 17-yr-old course choosers in the 'family-not-been-to-university-before' market is almost non-existent, which is how the lower ranking institutions get away with it, whilst getting brownie points for 'widening participation in HE'.

The OU has enough applicants of ability (whose constraints are work / family commitments etc, not IQ) to not have to get too dragged in to this race to the bottom.

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"We are punished by our sins, not for them" - Elbert Hubbard
(so good, I wanted to see it after my posts and not only after those of shipmate JBohn from whom I stole it)

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Sioni Sais
Shipmate
# 5713

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I got a bit more than half of a OU degree, mostly in maths and found the materials up to level 3 accessible and (importantly) the assignments were helpfully marked.

What I remember most of all is how dedicated and skilled the tutors were. I don't know what things are like now, but back in the mid eighties they were very good.

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If someone takes a shot at President Trump will his bodyguards shout "Donald Duck"?

Posts: 23619 | From: Newport, Wales | Registered: Apr 2004  |  IP: Logged
betjemaniac
Shipmate
# 17618

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As an employer we've historically liked them, shows application, all those things. Anecdotally though the OU has been pared down to within an inch of its life (see Eyes passim...) so whether it deserves now the reputation that it has is moot. Certainly it used to be not only a non-standard route but an excellent one, now, depending on who you talk to, not so much potentially. And tracking the wrong way.

Gut feel, as someone involved in the recruitment process, is that I wouldn't rush to recommend it at the moment.

[ 28. April 2017, 12:19: Message edited by: betjemaniac ]

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And is it true? For if it is....

Posts: 1233 | From: behind the dreaming spires | Registered: Mar 2013  |  IP: Logged
Baptist Trainfan
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# 15128

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quote:
Originally posted by Helen-Eva:
I'm sure you've already done all the thinking about how the OU experience is different to the traditional student one and how actually living away from home with other students offers an 18-year-old an experience they won't get elsewhere.

True, and it was an experience I valued. But I suspect that an increasing number of students are living at home anyway, for financial reasons, and commuting to their local university.

Certainly true in Ipswich, which I've just come from - in fact the University start-up was largely predicated on this model, though it's changing. (My wife informs me that things were often done like that in 1970s Scotland, too).

Posts: 8498 | From: The other side of the Severn | Registered: Sep 2009  |  IP: Logged
Jengie jon

Semper Reformanda
# 273

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My third master's degree was from the OU. I got it working full time and was diagnosed with depression half way through, took six months break and found I was missing it so much I returned before I was really ready.

Work wise only slightly; it was an interest-thing and I was not changing jobs. PhD wise it gave me a head start on other PhD students. I was used to organising my work, citing work and being generally disciplined about doing things on time. There was a class difference between me and other students many from Russell Universities in preparedness for PhD.

Jengie

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"To violate a persons ability to distinguish fact from fantasy is the epistemological equivalent of rape." Noretta Koertge

Walking 18 miles to help Refugees get an education.

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Scots lass
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# 2699

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quote:
Originally posted by North East Quine:

I did my second undergraduate degree through the O.U. I started the Arts Foundation Course when I was 8 3/4 months pregnant with my first child.

My mum actually taught this course when I was little (am now wondering where your tutors were based...). Her own degree was from a Russell Group (ancient), and she always had a very high opinion of the course materials she was using to teach. As a result of that I've always thought quite well of the OU, and having done some of my own Masters by distance, I am frankly in awe of anyone who can do a degree whilst working. If I came across someone in a job application who had an OU degree, I would actually be more impressed with them than I would be if they had done it in a more conventional manner.
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North East Quine

Curious beastie
# 13049

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The Arts Foundation Course and Modern Scottish History tutors were both based in Aberdeen. The History of Mathematics tutor was based in Northern Ireland, and I had no direct contact with her at all. Other tutors were based in Scotland, but at a distance from me.
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Steve_R
Shipmate
# 61

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I took my second degree with the Open theological College (subsequently part of the University of Gloucester, now apparently defunct) and my younger daughter is studying a distance degree with the University of Derby. All I can repeat is that trying to do such degrees whilst still working full-time (or even part-time) is bloody hard work and deserves to be given full credit for being achieved.

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Love and Kisses, Steve_R

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