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Dr Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg, Senior Research and Knowledge Exchange Impact Manager, The Open University

15 September 2020, 8:07 UTC Share

The Open University: Combining national policies with local strengths across the UK Nations

As an institution which has a presence in all the Nations, The Open University has unique opportunities to engage with policy makers across the UK as part of its knowledge exchange and impact portfolio.

The opportunities also raise logistical questions when developing institutional approaches to managing separate funding mechanisms alongside one another, such as the Higher Education and Innovation Fund and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’ support. Regional funding bodies have different priorities, and this diversity must therefore be reflected in the OU’s institutional strategies and policies. OU Institutional strategies for policy engagement must simultaneously cater for the government’s desire to address local needs with the understanding that for the OU as an institution, the regional and local are simultaneously the national or even international.

Since its formal opening just over 50 years ago, the OU has succeeded in building productive relationships with policy makers in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England which have allowed the OU to share its research expertise. Particularly in the first three nations relationships with policy makers have flourished as members of local government are more accessible there than they might be in Westminster.

The OU’s main campus in Milton Keynes benefits from its partnerships within the Oxford – Cambridge Arc, and is driving the Space agenda within the Arc Universities Group (AUG), working with LEPS and the Satellite Catapult to grow space related activity in the region. Its position within the Arc also means though, that it is surrounded by research-intensive organisations which may have more established relationships with Westminster in other policy-relevant areas.

London with its many universities is also not far away, whereas the OU’s presence in the nations allow it to come in to its own. Areas of policy strength relate to education technologies, continued professional development, regional upskilling and life-long learning: all areas critical to the post-COVID recovery agenda and the UK’s desire to retain its status as one of the most effective knowledge economies.

In Wales, The Open University’s (OU) priorities for applied and co-produced research complement the public policy environment in Wales. The Welsh Government’s emphasis on the civic mission of universities and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 give the OU an opportunity to put its social-values-led mission of academic rigour and working in and with communities into practice through addressing Wales’ seven well-being goals. The OU are piloting a model of working with Cardiff schools and Cardiff and Vale College teacher and FE lecturer CPD using academic support, learning design and digital content production and translation. More widely, the OU forms part of the Cardiff Commitment and sits on the Education Development Board, working with employers and other education providers to support the education ecosystem in the capital city.

The OU in Scotland significantly influences social policy in Scotland, interacting with the Scottish Government, Government agencies and departments alongside the public, private and third sectors. Thematic areas relate to the larger contemporary agendas in Scotland including education, economic regeneration, health and wellbeing, children and young people, the environment, civil society and work. The OU makes a unique contribution via its widening access to education credentials and its national reach, from the Shetlands to the Scottish Borders.

In Scotland the OU are members of the Scottish Policy Research Exchange, which brings academics and policy issues and policy makers together under the one roof to explore ideas, opinions and solutions. Additionally, the OU have links with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre.

The OU in Ireland has a strong strategic focus on contributions to peacebuilding and regeneration in Northern Ireland working closely with local organisations on projects such as ‘Time to Think’ where oral histories and research in to prison archives examines the educational histories of Republican and Loyalist ex-prisoners. Working with employers and meeting their skills and innovation needs in Northern Ireland is another key priority for The OU. It works closely with Confederation of Business Industry, Northern Ireland to provide insights into the skills and training challenges that employers in Northern Ireland are facing.

All these activities are taking place under the auspices of what is essentially one University. The above gives a snapshot of just a few of the most significant areas of policy involvement the institution has across the four nations. There are many other areas of course, where the OU’s research has made a positive policy-related difference. We therefore invite readers from across the UK to further explore the OU’s offering.

Dr Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg has worked at a variety of Universities in the UK and at The University of Sydney, Australia holding positions in research grant acquisition, policy and strategy and researcher development. Currently Muriel is a Senior Research Impact and Knowledge Exchange Manager in central services at The Open University (OU). She is responsible for managing the OU’s REF2021 Impact submission and overseeing the OU’s Knowledge Exchange activities, which include policy engagement.

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