The Open University: 50 years of unlocking diverse talent everywhere

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It’s a special year for The Open University, celebrating 50 years of helping OU students and graduates realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential. One of the UK’s best-loved and respected institutions, more than 2 million worldwide have studied with us since we began unlocking this otherwise hidden source of talent in 1969. OU students and graduates have strengths and skills from life and work as well as higher studies, so we also help employers connect with this unique talent pool. Our pioneering distance-learning model means excellent OU candidates are not only based in major towns and cities, but in a wide range of locations. This often makes them ideally placed for countryside-based roles.

There is no typical OU student.  People of all ages and backgrounds study with us, for all sorts of reasons – to update their skills, get a qualification and increasingly to start, boost or change their career direction. The average age of an OU student has come down in recent years, and is currently late twenties, although they range from school-leavers and people with many more years of experience.

What they have in common is a non-traditional route to higher education and graduation. Many already have life and work experience in addition to the skills they gain from OU study. They have also proven their time-management skills, resilience, initiative and self-motivation from determinedly progressing their studies alongside everyday commitments.

Over the years, the OU’s co-production partnership with the BBC has produced many memorable television series, including the breath-taking and thought-provoking Blue Planet II, clearly showing that conservation is close to our hearts. This is another reason we often find ourselves helping students and graduates into opportunities with countryside employers.

One such student is Amy, who is studying Environmental Science. Passionate about conservation, Amy is keen to pursue a career in the environmental sector. Years ago, Amy didn’t quite achieve the A-levels she hoped for and spent 15 years working as a chef. The organisational and task management skills she gained as a chef proved invaluable for the employer when we helped Amy into a 10-week paid internship with an ecological services firm in the Cambridgeshire fens. Now having experience, as well as a taste for conservation work, she is currently on a 12-month placement with the Field Studies Council on the Pembrokeshire coast. If you’d like to find out more about Amy’s journey and current FSC placement, Amy has created a fascinating series of video diaries explaining her role and how she got there.

A completely different case is Doug, who has already graduated in Environmental Science. Doug describes himself as a mature student who had been out of the workplace for some time. However, he has a wealth of previous experience and was able to prove his worth (and boost his confidence) during his 10-week internship with the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. He carried out research that helped secure funding and could even contribute towards future government policy.

“The benefits to us over the last 2 years (having hosted 2 students now), has seen support for key strategy think pieces to be delivered…. I would highly recommend getting involved with this programme!,” said a spokesperson from Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.

If you are a small or medium-sized business or charity and would like to find out more about The Open University Work Placement Programme, please don’t hesitate to email us at

If you’d like to find out more about the great courses and qualifications the Open University offers, visit  You can also search for over 1000 free courses, interactives, videos, podcasts and articles to grow your learning via OpenLearn  What’s stopping you? Why not get inspired and learn something new today!

Careers and Employability Services, The Open University  

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