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Open University

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 8 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he proposes to take in order to preserve the "openness" of the Open University, in view of proposals under discussion that the same principles in respect of undergraduate tuition fees at conventional universities should govern future fee increases at the Open University.

The present tuition fee at the Open University has applied since the academic year 1973. The proposed increase now under discussion would take effect from the academic year 1976 and is intended to maintain the value of the university's fee income in relation to grant. I do not think that this would change the character of the Open University.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that reply will be received with very great disappointment? Is he further aware that during the past five years the Open University has been attracting an increasing number of applications from what are termed the "manual occupation" groups? That is a welcome sign of the Open University's reaching out to the educationally underprivileged. Is my right hon. Friend aware that to increase the fees as is suggested— fees which are already high, and unsupported by grant—will be one of the greatest threats that the Open University has yet faced?

I agree completely with the first part of my hon. Friend's question. I believe that the Open University is doing a tremendous job and making a unique contribution to British education. I do not think that its fees can be exempted from the effects of inflation, any more than can anything else in our national life. However, our efforts are being directed towards finding the right answers. My noble Friend discussed this matter with the representatives of the Open University on 25th March. I assure my hon. Friend that no final decision has been made on the figure.