Young Students by the Thousand Turn to the Open University

January 24, 2002

The number of young people learning with the Open University has almost doubled

in five years according to new figures that show one in every 12 OU students

is 24 or younger.

The number of OU undergraduate students aged under 24 in the UK has risen from

5,894 in 1996/97 to 11,360 in 2000/01 – about the total number of students at

many other UK universities. In 1996/97 students in this age group represented

5.3 per cent of the total number of OU undergraduate students; the figure for

2000/01 was 8.5 per cent.

The rise in the number of Open University students aged 21 or under is even

more striking; it has risen from 1,543 (about one per cent of the OU student

body) in 1996/97 to 4,313 (about three per cent) in 2000/01.

Younger students are turning to study at the university for three main reasons,

says Professor Allan Cochrane, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Students, Quality and Standards).

"We’re finding that the cost of going to other universities is putting

people off and they are turning to the OU instead. When you consider that OU

students do not have to find the money to live away from home and that our fees

are significantly lower, it is not altogether surprising.

"Secondly, an increasing number of people do not want to study for three

years before embarking on a career. They want to be able to combine starting

a career and studying as soon as they finish school – something they can do

if they work and take Open University courses. "Some of our students have

come to the OU having tried studying at other universities, where they have

found the lifestyle, including the lack of a strong work ethic that some of

them perceive, not for them. Studying with the OU allows them to work at their

own pace."

Two-thirds of the students aged 21 and under are women. Of all students aged

21 and under who join the OU for undergraduate study, almost half (46 per cent)

of those who do not already have a first degree have qualifications that could

take them into a conventional university, if they wished.

"We have also found that we are attracting the kind of students that the

Government wants to bring into higher education to widen participation, for

example members of minority ethnic groups and members of lower socio-economic

groups," adds Professor Cochrane. Government education ministers have made

public their target of attracting 50 per cent of young people into higher education

by the end of the decade.


The Open University is Britain’s largest and most innovative university, with

more than 220,000 students and customers in 1999/2000. A total of 22 per cent

of all part-time higher education students in the UK study with the Open University.

There are no entry qualifications to the university’s undergraduate courses.

Information about case studies of younger Open University students and graduates

is available from Neil Coaten, media relations officer, on 01908 652580.


Neil Coaten Open University Media Relations 01908 652580