10 OCTOBER 1970, Page 19

The true university

Sir: Mr Peter Smith feels that the critics of the Open University would be better employed inquir- ing into the nature of a viable system of education for inex- perienced students.

Sussex University has recently carried out an experiment for students 'who left school early with no academic qualifications. In arts and social studies, the scheme is said to have been 'strik- ingly successful': twenty-one of a possible twenty-six students ob- tained degrees. But of the seven science students admitted between 1965 and 1967. only two graduated. The university is now reluctant to accept unqualified science students, even after they have spent a year

in technical college'. (Times Educa- tional Supplement, 18 September, 1970.) This may explain why Mr Peter Smith's hope for the Open Uni- versity is 'education' in science, an 'extension of scientific culture'. as he calls it. instead of 'conven- tional specialist fact-cramming'. The Open University will be teach- ing not only hard scientific facts, but the wider issues of science— what it is. its history, its philo- sophy. its methodology and its relation to society in general'. The courses, therefore, promise to be variations on the theme of en- vironmental and social studies. As Mr Coln) Brogan recently wrote, 'Whether the content of instruc- tion be the alphabet or textile chemistry, it is subsidiary to the major aim, which is the assertion of the equality of all men'.

The Open University will cost us over E4 million per annum. It already has a staff of 450, and has full-time Senior Counsellors in twelve major centres. There are Regional Directors, part-time Counsellors and Study Centres (soon to add the cost of their estra‘aganzas to the local rates?). A computer costing .£1 million has just been installed. But the 'work. ers' at whom the experiment was aimed and who were described by Lord Crowther as their 'primary material' have failed to respond to the call to culture. The latest endeavours of the University even include the appointment of a Sales Director to sell the courses!

How can the Government fail to see that here is a candidate emi- nently suitable for the `chop'-- the pity of it is that Mrs Thatcher allowed herself to be 'impressed' by the persuasive arguments of the Vice-Chancellor. Dr Walter Perry. M. E. Farmer 9. Orrishrnere Road, Cheadle, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire