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How The Open University Works: An Insider’s Perspective

In this article, I present an in-depth overview of what studying with The Open University is like.


Open University Graduation Ceremory
Open University Graduation Ceremony


I graduated from the The Open University (OU) with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Studying online proved a great fit for me. So much, in fact, that I went on to apply to Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS). I’m currently working my way through the program, specializing in machine learning. This puts me in an unusual situation: I’ve completed my entire higher education online. I suspect that in a near future, this situation will become more common.

Unlike most OU students, who are usually in their mid-thirties, I joined the OU in my early twenties. I chose the OU over a brick university because I had started working full time after high school, and I wanted to continue working during my studies. Furthermore, I lived in Belgium, but I envisioned my career in the US. So I wanted to study in English and my degree to be recognized internationally. As it happens, the OU is one of a handful of UK universities to be fully accredited (that is, regionally accredited) in the US. That settled my choice.

In this article, I retrace my steps at the OU from enrollment to graduation. The goal is twofold:

  • First, to give you a sense of what studying with the OU is like.
  • Second, to highlight particular aspects of the OU experience that aren’t readily apparent from the outside, but that every prospective student ought to know.

If you’d rather try for yourself, the OU has an online course platform with hundreds of free courses, leading to certificates like the one below. You can find more information here: 1000+ Open University Free Certificates.

Free certificate earned by my colleague @pat

Open University Origins & Challenges

The Open University is a UK public research institution and the world’s first distance-learning university. Founded in 1969 following a government push for a more accessible higher education, it has grown to become the largest academic institution in Europe with over 208,000 students. It offers courses on a wide variety of subjects and degrees including bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. In 2012, the OU founded FutureLearn, which has grown to become Europe’s largest online course platform. 

Over the years, the OU has faced important challenges. Funding reforms in UK’s higher education compounded with Brexit led to cuts in student aid, hikes in course fees, and drops in enrollments. In 2018, the situation prompted the OU vice-chancellor to resign, following a vote of no confidence from OU staff. The vice-chancellor’s departure was precipitated by his controversial plans to lay off staff, cut courses, and scale down research.

So the OU has and will continue to face many challenges. To overcome them, the university may adopt measures that’ll change its approach to online teaching, perhaps drastically. But the purpose of this article isn’t to speculate about the OU’s future but to describe the OU experience as I lived it, and for the sake of future students, as I hope it will remain.

Open University Admission & Cost

“I paid about $1,500 per course and $18,000 in total for my degree. But since then, prices have increased, with big swings up and down.” 

As its name indicates, the Open University is built around the notion of openness. There are no barriers to entry besides knowing English, having internet access, and paying your tuition fees. Given the OU’s public, nonprofit nature, tuition fees fluctuate according to UK politics.

I paid about $1,500 per course and $18,000 in total for my degree. But since then, prices have increased, with big swings up and down. In 2021, the degree would have set you back $26,500. In 2022, the cost went down: $23,000 in total. And in 2023, we’re back to $26,400.

So the OU isn’t cheap, but it’s more affordable than most British universities, and it doesn’t require you to shoulder the cost of living in the UK.

Open University Courses


The Open University offers for-credit courses in pretty much every discipline you’d expect from any large university: biology, economics, engineering, journalism, law, and mathematics, to name a few.


Undergraduate courses are classified into levels 1, 2, and 3. These roughly correspond to academic years.

For example, level 1 courses are the type of course you’d take in your first year in a brick university. They are often introductory courses and involve some hand-holding. At level 2, courses are likely to build on previous ones, and you’re expected to be more self-reliant. By level 3, you’re autonomous and ready to tackle semester-long research and development projects.

You can take individual courses at any level, or you can study toward a degree comprising a series of courses across several levels.


The OU offers courses worldwide, but the exact course catalog varies from country to country. As a general rule, most courses are available throughout Europe, but options in other continents may be more limited. For instance, the OU currently offers 245 undergraduate courses in the UK, but just 221 in the US.

Open University Degrees


“Certificates and diplomas can serve as stepping stones toward full degrees, reducing the time it takes to gain a credential.” 

Different qualifications allow to accommodate different student needs and constraints. At the undergraduate level, qualifications available include:

  • Undergraduate certificate — equivalent to ⅓ of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Undergraduate diploma — equivalent to ⅔ of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Bachelor’s degree without honours — equivalent to ⅚ of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Bachelor’s degree with honours — full bachelor’s degree.

Similar qualifications are offered at the graduate level:

  • Graduate certificate — equivalent to ⅓ of a master’s degree.
  • Graduate diploma — equivalent to ⅔ of a master’s degree.
  • Master’s degree — full master’s degree.

The difference between these qualifications isn’t trivial. They don’t all benefit from the same level of recognition, especially outside the UK. For example, many graduate programs only accept applicants with an honours undergraduate degree. Certificates and diplomas can serve as stepping stones toward full degrees, reducing the time it takes to gain a credential.

In addition, the OU offers “top-up” degrees. These correspond to the final year of an honours degree. They allow students who already have a non-honours degree, potentially from a different country, to study an additional year to earn a UK honours degree.

For instance, if you already have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, you may “upgrade” it to a bachelor’s degree with honours in engineering. 

Finally, the Open University offers doctoral degrees including PhD and EdD.

Open Degrees

OU undergraduate degrees focus on either one or two complementary subjects. For example, you can pursue a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. But you may prefer a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Physics. If you decide to study two subjects, you’ll spend equal time on each.

But the OU also offers an alternative to regular undergraduate degrees called open degrees. Instead of focusing on one or two subjects, open degrees allow you to pick and choose courses to tailor your degree to your needs and interests. The only requirement is to take courses across different levels (usually four courses at level 1, four at level 2, and four at level 3).

But open degrees are a double-edged sword. If they offer more control to students, they can also be perceived as lacking focus — for example, if a student chooses courses that don’t complement each other. Moreover, employers are unlikely to know what open degrees are. This may not be an issue if you’re studying simply for the pleasure of learning, but if your goal is to improve your professional prospects, a regular OU degree is your safest option.


OU degrees may offer different specializations. These are specific fields of study within your degree subject. For instance, in computing, undergraduate specializations include:

  • Computer Science
  • Software Development
  • Communication and Networking

Each specialization involves a different set of courses. And while some of these courses are compulsory, others are elective — that is, you can choose between several alternatives. For example, in the Computer Science specialization, taking Object-Oriented Programming and Algorithms, Data Structures, and Computability is compulsory. But Software Engineering, Data Analysis, and Interaction Design are electives — you may decide to take only some of these courses.

Open University Teaching Method

Open University Campus at Milton Keynes

In addition to being a distance-learning university, the OU is a research institution. Its campus and research facilities are located some 50 miles north of London in the town of Milton Keynes, also home to the famous Bletchley Park. If most OU courses, and by extension, most OU degrees are completed online, some require students to spend time on campus.

This is notably the case for courses that don’t lend themselves naturally to an online mode of delivery — for instance, because they require direct communication (such as a foreign language course) or access to special resources (such as a laboratory chemistry course). Rather than not offering those courses, the OU decided to add an on-campus component to them, requiring students to spend time at Milton Keynes, or at a partner institution, to attend classes, take part in practical activities, and collaborate.

This is also the case for doctoral students, who are usually required to live at a commutable distance from Milton Keynes to fully engage with the research environment and regularly meet with their doctoral advisers.

But these cases are the exception rather than the rule. The OU remains first and foremost a distance-learning institution.


Most undergraduate courses are offered twice a year (starting in February and October) and last about nine months. Registrations close a few weeks before courses begin, and there’s a limit to how many courses you can take at once. Maxing out credits each year, you can finish a bachelor’s degree with honours in as little as three years, but most students take longer.

Open University Platform

Open University Student Home

The heart of the OU is its website. There, you can find most of the information you need to determine if the OU could be a good fit for you. And if you enroll, it’s from there you’ll log into your student homepage or Student Home, which centralizes the main components of your virtual student life, including your:

  • Profile — where you can access your academic record.
  • Newsfeed — where faculty posts announcements.
  • Email — which ends in .ac.uk, the UK equivalent of an US .edu student email.
  • Calendar — which aggregates all your course deadlines.
  • Services — such as career support, digital library, financial aid, and help center.
  • Communities — such as OU student associations, forums, and social media.

Finally, your student homepage allows you to access your courses.

Course Website

Open University Course Website

Each course has its own website with at its center, a study planner. The planner is divided into weekly checklists of activities, where each activity links to the corresponding course material. As you advance through the material, you check items off your list to track your progress. Note that although the study is self-paced, assessments do have hard deadlines.

Studying with the Open University

Learning Materials

Open University Textbooks

The Open University remains a firm believer in traditional learning materials, which they’ve been producing in-house since 1971 and are included in the course fee. A few weeks before classes start, you’ll receive a UK-stamped package containing textbooks, USB flash drives, and sometimes, special equipment.

For example, in one course I received a programmable board similar to a Raspberry Pi. The board was used in conjunction with a collection of sensors and a motor to introduce students to programming through a hands-on approach. This is a recurring theme with the OU: they try hard not to let distance get in the way of a rich learning experience.

Open University SenseBoard


“Think of your tutor as both your professor and TA. If you have a question, you can contact them for help.” 

The OU has a very particular approach to course building and teaching. Courses are built by multidisciplinary teams that comprise experts from academia and industry, educational technologists, content creation specialists, and external examiners. They are in charge of producing all the course material from theory to assessments, from printed to digital format.

But on a daily basis, courses are run by tutors. Think of your tutor as both your professor and TA. If you have a question, you can contact them for help. When you submit an assignment, they’re the one to mark it and provide feedback. And periodically, they conduct live online sessions. Simply put, your tutor is your most valuable source of support during your studies.

Each tutor is in charge of a tutor group that usually comprises 30 students. Think of these students as your classmates: they’re all in the same course, follow the same schedule, and have the same tutor as you.

Tutors are experts in their course subject matter, and many combine their work as tutors with related positions in academia or industry. Some of my tutors were also lecturers in brick universities, some were engineers, some held PhDs, some were OU alumni, and some, several of the above. But regardless of their background, my tutors were all helpful and experienced. Maybe I got lucky, but the OU prides itself on ranking high in the national student satisfaction survey conducted annually by UK authorities, so I suspect my experience isn’t an outlier.

Shortly before the term begins, you’ll receive an email from your tutor where they introduce themself and welcome you to the course. From there, how much contact you have with them is entirely up to you. My suggestion is to engage in meaningful exchanges with your tutors. Their support can be invaluable both during and after the course. Few distance-learning programs give you the chance to build meaningful relationships with instructors, so take full advantage of this opportunity.

Course Content

The bulk of the course material consists of text interspersed with supporting images and charts. Audio and video material aren’t all that common. I imagine this is a deliberate choice by the OU. It helps keep production costs down. And it helps maintain parity between the printed and online material, ensuring that students get a similar experience whether they study through textbook or computer.

Of course, this parity has its limits. Some resources simply can’t be put in printed format, such as interactive quizzes and links to external references. So there’s a gap between the printed and online material. And as newer and better educational technologies are integrated into the OU platform to enrich the learning experience, this gap is bound to increase.

Online Sessions

“I remember online sessions being a nice break from the monotony of solo learning.” 

Every month or two, your tutor will schedule a live online session. These are like going to class but over the internet. You and your classmates use a web conferencing app to join your tutor in a virtual classroom. There, you can communicate through video, audio, or chat, and collaborate on a shared blackboard.

Your tutor spends one to two hours teaching the course material, often with the support of a slide presentation. Online sessions tend to focus on the more challenging topics, the ones students can really benefit from being taught directly.

And if you have a question, all you need do is raise your hand. Your virtual hand that is. Virtual classrooms have a system of emojis that can be leverage different ways — for example, by students to draw the attention of the tutor, or by the tutor to ask if students are following along, which is usually echoed by a wave of thumbs up.

I remember online sessions being a nice break from the monotony of solo learning. They’re a great opportunity to get some face-to-face time with your tutors and bond with classmates.

And if you can’t make it to a session, don’t worry; these are systematically recorded, so you can always catch up later. In some courses, you can even access recordings from other tutors. This is useful when dealing with difficult subjects because if your tutor’s explanations don’t click with you, another tutor’s just might. In addition, I found that cross-referencing the advice shared by different tutors prior to assessments would give you a good idea of the type of questions you’d get. No wonder pre-exam sessions had by far the largest attendance.


Tutor Support

“You can expect a response within two days, although in my experience, tutors often reply on the same day.” 

At some point, you may have to contact your tutor. You have different options to do so.

For personal matters, use email. Your tutor’s email address is always available to you, and it’s the main avenue for official contact. For instance, if you need an extension on an assignment, request it by email. You can expect a response within two days, although in my experience, tutors often reply on the same day. And if you’re wondering, tutors will gladly grant you an assignment extension as long as you contact them well ahead of the deadline.

For urgent matters, you may be able to call or message your tutor. They often share their phone number and contact hours at the start of the course. I never resorted to contacting one of my tutors on their phone, but having this option was certainly reassuring.

For general questions, you can still ask your tutor, but you may want to use the course forums instead.


Forums are ideal to discuss the course material and get quick answers to questions. There, you can receive replies from both tutors and students. And since those students work on the same problems and must meet the same deadlines as you, you’re likely to get a timely response. In addition, you’re probably not the only one asking yourself those questions. So by sharing them, you ensure that others benefit from the community answers.

Each course has several forums, and how these are broken down differs from course to course. Some forums are specific to particular course sections or assignments (to ensure that all questions stay on topic), while others are more general and informal (to allow for more relaxed discussions on a wider range of topics).

One special forum that is present in every course is the tutor group forum. This forum is restricted to your tutor group — that is, all students in the course that have the same tutor as you. So you can think of it as your class forum. But in my experience, tutor forums are seldom used, except by tutors themselves to post class announcements.

Open University Assessments

The OU uses two methods of assessment: homework and exams. Let’s discuss each.


Regularly during the course, you’ll have to submit homework. Naturally, these are assignments you complete at home and at your own pace, and they come in two types.

Tutor-Marked Assignments

The first type of homework is the tutor-marked assignment (TMA). TMAs are substantial assignments that aim to assess your understanding of a large chunk of the course material. And as their name indicates, they are marked by your tutor.

TMAs require anywhere from 20 to 40 hours of work and can involve a wide variety of tasks, such as short- and long-answer questions, programming problems, or essays. Most courses have between three and five TMAs, and the precise number is listed on the registration page, so you can get an idea of the course load before you register. Although TMA deadlines are known from the first day of class, the TMAs themselves may only become accessible later. For instance, in my algorithms course, TMAs were released two months before their deadline. So you can work ahead, but within some limits. Once you complete a TMA, you submit it by uploading it to the course website.

After the deadline, your tutor can score your TMA. They check your answers one by one, marking in green the correct ones, marking in red the wrong ones, providing feedback on each as required, and finally, giving you a score out of 100 and an overall comment on your performance. So the OU adopts a very conventional approach to scoring TMAs. There were no automated scoring agents, no peer feedback involved, just good old manual marking.

Interactive Computer-Marked Assignments

The second type of homework is the interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA). iCMAs are short assignments that you completed online and that are graded automatically.

iCMAs have a predefined availability window, usually several weeks long. You may complete them at any time during that period. iCMA’s include multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks questions, drag-and-drop questions, coding questions… In short, all question types that are easily autograded. Although more numerous than TMAs, iCMAs require less time to complete and don’t impact your grade as much. So they’re not as critical. In fact, I remember iCMAs being entirely optional in some courses, serving only as a tools for self-assessment.

Open University Exams

“Having students fly to the UK to sit their exams would defeat the purpose of studying online. So instead, it’s the exams that go to the students.” 

All courses end with an exam, and just like homework, exams come in two types.

Proctored Exams

The first type of exam the is the bona fide proctored exam — that is, an exam taken in person, in a timed environment, and under the watchful eye of an invigilator.

So once again the OU departs from a purely online experience in favor of a more traditional approach, and this despite the logistical overhead it implicates. I suspect this decision is motivated by a desire to leave no doubt about the rigor of the university.

Having students fly to the UK to sit their exams would defeat the purpose of studying online. So instead, it’s the exams that go to the students: the OU has partnered with over 100 examination centers across Europe, where students can go take their exams. And if you don’t live in Europe, the OU can make individual arrangements with an appropriate venue in your country of residence.

In my case, the exam center was a ten-minute drive from home. I’d go there and find myself in a room full of OU students taking exams on different subjects. An invigilator would verify our identities and point us to our allocated seats, where our exam papers would be waiting face down. After instructing us on what to do, and more importantly, what not to do during the exam, we’d be allowed to start. Exams would usually have a four-hour time limit. So all in all, a pretty typical exam experience.

I should add that that’s how proctored exams worked back when I completed my degree. During the pandemic, the OU transitioned to online proctoring, and apparently, online exams are here to stay.

I don’t know what software the OU uses for online proctoring, but in the context of my master’s, I’ve taken many online proctored exams using different proctoring software, such as Proctortrack and Honorlock, and they all work more-or-less the same:

  • First, you’ll have to install the proctoring software. It will monitoring everything that happens on your computer during the exam, and it will capture video and sounds through your webcam.
  • Second, you’ll have to show some ID and potentially do a “room scan”, using your webcam to show where you’ll take the exam, to demonstrate that you don’t have forbidden course materials at hand or other computers.
  • Third, you’ll take your exam, which may consist of multiple-choice questions, short-essays, or even longer reports, while being recorded by your webcam.
  • Fourth, once you finish the exam or the time runs out, the recording will be uploaded to be analyzed. If the recording gets flagged because of any suspicious activity (for instance, you spoke to someone during the exam), it will be manually checked by an instructor.

End-of-Module Assignments

The second and less common type of exam is the end-of-module assignment (EMA). EMAs are a cross between a student project and a very long TMA. Just like homework, EMAs are completed at home and at your own pace. But unlike homework, EMAs are not marked by tutors, but by external examiners, to ensure consistency and prevent biases.

EMAs require 30 to 60 hours of work and aim to assess your knowledge of the course material, but also, your ability to apply this knowledge in practical contexts. To this end, EMAs often adopt an open-ended, project-centric approach. And for this reason, only courses where a project seems like a natural extension of the course material have EMAs. For instance, my data analysis course had an EMA that involved conducting a full-fledged analysis of a couple of seemingly unrelated data sets. We were given free rein as to how to approach our analysis. Our score only depended on our ability to unearth relations between the data sets, extract valuable insights, and thoroughly report on our findings using the concepts and tools learned in the course.

Open University Grading

“The OU grading system is particularly ruthless.” 

Once you receive all your homework and exam results, your final course grade can be determined. This is done in three steps.

First, your homework scores are combined to form your so-called continuous score. This involves calculating a weighted mean of your TMA and iCMA scores. The specific weights used vary from course to course, but TMAs are always weighted more heavily than iCMAs.

Second, your exam score becomes your so-called examinable score.

Third, your continuous and examinable scores are compared, and the worst of the two is used to determine your course grade using the following table:

Score Boundaries Course Grade
85 – 100 Distinction Grade
70 – 84 Grade 2 Pass
55 – 69 Grade 3 Pass
40 – 54 Grade 4 Pass
0 – 39 Fail
Open University Grading Scale

The OU grading system is particularly ruthless. Imagine you get perfect scores on all your homework, resulting in a continuous score of 100, but you bomb your exam, resulting in an examinable score of just 65. Since only the worst score is used to determine your course grade, you end the course with a Pass 3. And the same would happen if you aced your exam but did poorly on your homework. So the only way to get a good course grade is to perform well on both.

Unfortunately, there’s no single way to convert UK grades into US letter grades. But for what it’s worth, when I had my OU degree evaluated by World Education Services (WES) to apply to grad school in the US, both Pass 2 and Distinction grades were converted to As.

Open University Graduation

Open University Degree Classification

“An Open University First translates into a 4.0 GPA and an Upper Second into a 3.8.” 

Once you pass all your degree courses, you can apply for graduation. Based on your academic results, you’ll be offered to graduate with one of the following classes of honors:

  • First
  • Upper Second
  • Lower Second
  • Third

Again, there’s no one way to convert these to the US system, but according to WES, an Open University First translates into a 4.0 GPA and an Upper Second into a 3.8. But your mileage may vary.

If you’re satisfied with the class of honors you’re offered, you can immediately graduate. But if you’d like to improve it, you can also delay your graduation to take more courses. Good results in these could offset previous lower results and bump you up a class of honors.

Once you accept your graduation offer, you have immediate access to documents detailing your degree, including the courses you’ve taken, the grades you’ve achieved, and the skills you’ve gained. These documents also explain how courses were delivered and assessed, and they don’t shy away from the fact the OU is primarily a distance-learning institution.

Two months later, you’ll receive by post your shiny new diploma with the usual ornaments and information, including the university coat of arms and the degree class of honours.

Open University Coat of Arms

Open University Graduation Ceremony

The OU organizes graduation ceremonies with the traditional bells and whistles: academic dresses, inspirational speeches, rolled diplomas, the works. Ceremonies are held monthly in venues across the UK. If you get the chance to attend, I encourage you to do so. They’re a great opportunity to meet faculty and classmates. And having your name called, walking the stage, and hearing the cheers from your family makes for some great memories.

Open University Accreditation & Recognition

“The Open University is fully accredited both in the UK and US.” 

Despite its unconventional mode of delivery, the Open University is on paper a university like any other. More specifically, the OU is fully accredited both in the UK and US. It’s a recognized body in the UK, which is British legalese for fully accredited. And it’s one of the few UK universities to also be regionally accredited in the US. (To learn more on the subject, head to our Beginner’s Guide to US Accreditations.)

So if after your OU degree, you want to pursue further studies in a brick university, you can. And this includes prestigious universities. For instance, one of my OU classmates went on to study a master’s degree in computer science at Oxford University.

Student Services & Associations

“Student Support offers direct, individualized assistance to students. For example, they can provide you a letter of recommendation that reflects to your academic performance.” 

Open University students have access to structures of support that extend beyond their studies, such as Career Services, Student Support, and OU Associations. Here’s how each can help:

  • Career Services offers resources to help students at every step of their job search. For example, they provide access to private job listings, they organize career-oriented webinars and consultations, and they facilitate contact between students and employers.
  • Student Support offers direct, individualized assistance to students. For example, they can provide you a letter of recommendation that reflects your academic performance. Although these tend to be a bit generic, it’s nice to have a streamlined process for requesting them. And if you need a more personal, more inspired recommendation, you can always try to get one directly from a tutor. If you did well in their course, they’ll likely oblige.
  • OU Associations, such as the OU Student Association and the OU Alumni Association, offer access to a vast network of OU students and alumni. Keep in mind the OU has over 2.2 million alumni working in a wide range of industries and companies. So needless to say, leveraging this network can be key to successfully launch or advance your career.


In 1969, the Open University became the world’s first distance-learning university. Since then, its approach to education has continued to evolve at the pace of technological development. But this evolution has been selective: embracing technology to augment the learning experience but retaining proven features of conventional education (such as close contact between students and instructors).

This nuanced approach, balancing tradition with novelty to offer the best of both worlds, seems to have struck a chord with students, because more than 50 years after its inception, the Open University is the largest academic institution in Europe. And if you too would like to join, I hope this article helped shed light on how you should proceed and what you can expect.

Manoel Cortes Mendez Profile Image

Manoel Cortes Mendez

Software engineer and online graduate student in computer science passionate about education, technology, and their intersection.

Comments 74

  1. Hughie Spudders

    Nice article, but I don’t seem to find a ‘Computer Science’ degree on the Open University website, only Computing & IT…

    • Matthew Aldron

      when you take Computing and IT degree the Computer Science is available as a path within the Computing and IT degree.

    • Matthew

      I am currently on the Computing & IT degree with the Open University and you can select a path, one of them is Computer Science. I chose another path Software Engineer. Hope this helps.


      • Oskar

        is there something different about the path choice studying in the UK? Because of those three currently available you can chose between Communications and Networking, Communications and Software and Software…

    • Frank

      Thank you for this clear and comprehensive article. It also makes clear how exactly the OU distinguishes itself from other universities.

    • Dave Bundy

      The grading system. Will vary between modules. For example on my current module, the TMAs total 60 percent, and 49 percent is allocated to the EMA. So, there is a slight bias towards the continuously assessed work. That said, regardless of the TMA scores, a score of 40 is required in the EMA to avoid failing.

      • David Bundy

        My apologies, this should read 40 percent is allocated to the EMA!

  2. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    I wonder the quality of knowledge of the OU . I claim that education must be received from top schools available , like Harvard, Stanford up to 200 best schools of USA , it is online or f2f . BUT the value of the knowledge is important . Therefore I promote online by top schools at low cost .Like Georgia Tech master degrees online .

    • Sarah Harries

      Oxford and Cambridge often use The OU’s course content in their courses. It is the most up to date evidence based research.

  3. Dean Schulze

    I have a question about the Georgia Tech ML courses. How code intensive are they? Do they expect you to write your own code, or do they pass out code that is mostly complete and expect you to fill in the blanks in a few places?

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      They expect you to write your own code. They often provide some starter code. But it’s typically just a skeleton to facilitate autograding later. You have to write all the business logic.

  4. Roger

    Thank you for such a detailed and insightful read. I am thinking about starting a BSc in Psychology and this was very helpful.

  5. College Schedule

    The OU offers for-credit courses in pretty much every discipline you’d expect from any large university: biology, economics, engineering, journalism, law, and mathematics to name a few.

  6. Johanna Dornell

    I just finished a BSc (Hons) in Natural Sciences, and chose the path to microbiology. I’m incredible happy with my experience overall, biology is a very hard subject to study and the level of support that we had was incredibly good. If you feel like giving The OU a chance and you know that you are self-disciplined (the hardest part in my opinion) I’d recommend you give it a try. I did, and without even realising it, after 5 1/2 years I’m now a Biologist and couldn’t be happier.

  7. Michaela

    Thank you for the in-depth information. I’ve got some questions:

    – Did you have to pay extra to attend examinations at one if their partners’ centres?
    – Did you find that the course materials and TMAs duly prepared you for the exams?

    I’m currently doing an undergraduate program with a OU in Asia but
    1) I can only sit exams in the same country so I’d have to fly back and forth for the duration of the program;
    2) despite a great online infrastructure, the Distance learning program in my current OU is not designed to be realistically “long distance”, it still relies a lot on students attending tutorials in person in order to understand to prepare for TMAs and exams.
    As I’m relocating to another country soon, this will be a problem, so I am thinking of transferring my credits to OU UK and continue my program with them (depending on the answers to the questions above).

    • Bart

      Hi Michaela.

      I’m currently doing an undergraduate course with the OU UK while based in Hong Kong and very positive about the experience and suitability of the course materials to learn on your own.

      While much of the tutorials are held at fairly inconvenient times, being late evening or middle of the night in Asia, they are recorded for future playback. When questions do arise you can always contact your tutor.

      For exams, when you want to do these overseas, you simply make arrangements in advance (I believe 2 or 3 months) with 3 locations you’d prefer. They then find an exam centra nearby, and you pay an additional fee (published on their website and varies from year to year but not location). In my case i ended up having my exams in the afternoon in Hong Kong, while students in Europe took the exam on the same date but then morning for them. As far as i understand, the locations i choose/prefer could be anywhere, and i could just as well go do the exams in Europe if i wanted, as long as the arrangements are done well in advance.

      You can always give them a call for more info.

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      1) No, I didn’t have to pay any extra fee. It was all included in the course fee.
      2) Yes, I found that the course material prepared me well for the exams.


    nice article.
    Can I take part from Bangladesh.

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      I just checked and it appears you can. When visiting a degree/course page, there’s a drop-down menu for picking your location. Bangladesh is in the list.

  9. Narendran Thillaisthanam

    Hello – Very nice article and fairly detailed.

    From what I understand, the U.S universities offer a 120 credit Bachelor’s degree. How do the 360 credit system match with that of the U.S?

    Also, isn’t it true that the U.S universities expect a four year undergrad to admit you into their masters program?
    If yes, what did you do to overcome this limitation of a 3 year bachelor program in OU?

    • Dr James Warren

      In the USA 1 unit of study works out to be about 3 hours of ‘work’. Most terms or semesters are about 12 units to be equivalent to full time study. Hours of work can be made up of lectures, study, labs etc. Full time study in UK is also about 36-40 hrs per week, or 120 CATS points per 12 months, over 3 years or 5-6 years using part time study.

      The degrees are equivalent since both have similar learning outcomes, comparable study times, and a tendency to have hierarchical levels of knowledge gain over time.

      Also recall that UK students before University do more years of schooling than USA (ends with Year 12/Grade 12) yet UK has specialised Sixth Form up to Year 13. Thus this means students typically enter Uni with a slightly higher level of outcomes (and exam results) and can specialise earlier in Uni. Lastly, UK is a four nations place, and there are important differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      I don’t think there’s a hard-and-fast rule: some three-year EU degrees are considered equivalent to four-year US degrees, while others are not. It depends on the country and university you graduated from, and on the university you’re applying to.

      I think what helped me the most when I applied to Georgia Tech were two things: (1) that I have an “honours” bachelor’s degree (that is, a full UK bachelor’s degree) and (2) that the OU is regionally accredited in the US (that is, it has the same type of accreditation as Georgia Tech).

  10. Jonas


    what is the timeschedule like..? I was thinking about studiyng part time, so how many courses will I have at a time..?

    Is it structured so that I have 2 30 credit courses for 1 year, or does 1 30 credit course span over 6 month and then when you complete that you can continue to the next course or how is that structure..?

    • Irene

      Hi Jonas,

      usually the courses start in October and March. So you might be able to do one course Oct/March and another one March/September which I really don’t recommend. I made this mistake the first year and ended up starting the second year without having a break! I was very tired!! I know prefer started 2 courses in October and be done with it by the end of May so that I can enjoy the summer 🙂 It’s not easy as I work full time and run a busy home but I need the summer break!

      Hope that helps.


      • Irene

        Sorry I meant April/September for the second course of the year 😀

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      You can decided what works best for you: you can take one course at a time or several.

  11. Fardin

    Fantastic information. You inspired me to join OU more

  12. EMO

    I am currently a student and trust me I wouldn’t ever make a choice of this university again!
    It looks easy , super You will manage your time with study etc On the end you pay a lot of money and you are alone with everything !
    It is my last year and thanks God!
    Just imagine , you receive materials and you need to understand on ownself everything , on the end you need to score 10% more then on normal university which has less work more meetings and interaction with tutors!

    I have compared TMA’s with my friend which is on normal University, He smiled at my face!
    He did much less, learnt much less than me and on the end he is scored higher due to percentage !
    Imagine for 2:1 on normal university you need 60% on OU you need 70% when you study the same materials with more difficult situation as you need to work on your own!

    Guys you can manage your time go on normal university and be happy and proud do not go for it You will be exhausted and upset!

    • Pelj

      I have studied over many years with the OU. I find your comments to be a real recommendation for the rigour and quality of the OU and its courses. No, it’s not a walkover. Hopefully you will have a great career ahead of you.

      • Claude

        Man, maybe you will never have a chance to see my reply but you really put a smile on my face.
        It was after learning Stuart Hall had spent time as a tutor at OU that I started to be proud of being one of them. This is genuinely the best educational experience I have ever been through.
        It is hard, but I occasionally am filled with the joy of knowledge. It is never a walkover, to pass the TMAs and EMAs you have to squeeze your time to spend it on the OU course works every week.
        But it absolutely worth it. Trust me, absolutely.

    • The English Student.

      I have to say, out of all the comments published here, I find this the least exact.

      An experience studying with the OU depends on YOUR experience. If you focus on the negatives (the less tutor-student interaction time, the higher grade boundaries, the studying alone), then that’s what you’re going to experience: a negative outcome.

      I have just completed Level 2 (second year) after studying my first year full time and second part time (taking two years, so so far three in total), and yes it has been hard. Have I wanted to sit there and do nothing? Of course I have! But when I look at the work I have to do on my own, and the higher grade boundary, I realise the opportunity I have in my hands.

      When I finish my degree with a first (yes, that is 85%), I know that when I go for future jobs and they see the grade on my CV and who I studied with, they’ll know the amount of hard work and effort I put into my degree. They will see I am a focused and disciplined learner/worker.

      So focus on the negatives if you really want, but don’t you dare put other people off from a degree that could change their outlook on their own life. Some of us do not have the time or money to go to standard University full time, and the OU open up extra options for these people.

      To Manoel, thank you for sharing this in depth article. I wish all the best for you and your future, as well to anyone else reading this comment.

      P.S. Please make sure you spell and grammar check your negative comments before posting. 😉

  13. Angela Thomas

    I would find it useful if OU grades were compared to UK universities, so you would have a good idea how well you were performing.

    I studied at a Redbrick University and got 60%+ on all grades and exams, ending with a 2.1.
    Now, I have to up my ante and aim for 70%+ to get a decent grade.

    I agree with you that the lowest mark should NOT be used as your final degree classification. It is unmotationable and downright UNFAIR.

    Had I known this I would not have bothered to study with them.

    • Kristian

      Exactly what I realised when starting an PG Cert. I will stop after my second module right because of this and continue my studies at another university.
      It is the biggest workload I’ve ever had at an university (and I studied PG already at European top universities), the most ambiguous questions I’ve ever found and very limited/narrow assessments without giving you the room to develop your own approach to the material.
      And I’ve never gained that bad marks on higher education courses.
      And that is really sad, because I find the idea behind the OU brilliant – it is just not well executed and I don’t know why they decided to introduce such a harsh marking scheme.

    • Sarah


      I am currently on an OU Computer Science degree. I could never understand how the grades worked before reading this. The grading makes a lot more sense now and is very harsh. I do terrible in exams so I guess the exam result being my grade takes the pressure off doing well in the TMA’s. I am trying to look on the upside 🙂

      Thanks for this information.

  14. Adrianna Kalland

    Thank you for your detailed article. Its very helpful. Can’t wait to start! Cheers

  15. M. Fontana


    I‘m asking this because we‘d like to plan vacation/holidays: Studying fulltime and only starting courses in October, are there any vacation breaks, e.g Christmas or Easter (as in how many weeks)?


    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      There were some formal breaks in Christmas and Easter. But when studying online, those weeks don’t feel much different from any other week. You can typically work ahead. So if you’re well organized, you may take a week off whenever you want (except during exams).

  16. Sharon Mess


    I have a 2:1 BA Hons in Literature with the OU. I’m glad the pass mark is 70-85 for B grade and 85+ for A. It reflects the quality of the OU graduates. No way would I wish them to change their grading system. If you have to up the ante to get the grades you want, then that’s what you’ve got to do.


    • Rose Webster

      Hi Sharon

      Did you find you needed or wanted access to an academic library for your degree? I am concerned I won’t be able to read around the subject enough and be able to cite enough references in my essays without access to a bricks and mortar academic library.

      Thanks in advance.

      • Charis

        You have access to the OU online library- it has thousands and thousands of Ebooks, journal articles and access to other databases- eg C18th primary sources.

        I am just about to finish my degree, having transferred credits from Warwick from the mid 00s. The library system is SO much easier than it was back then- you had to go in person, shlep up and down its 5/6 floors physically looking for the required book, often it had already been taken out, and then be searching through any remaining books for a snippet of useful info (I appreciate Warwick probably now has a big online collection now too).

        It was so easy to access what I needed.

        I put starting with the ou/finishing my degree off for several years. I only decided to go for it last year as you can only transfer credit from other institutions within 16 years and so I would have lost it if I had continued to dither.

        I wish I had done it sooner. I am due to graduate this summer and have three offers from red brick universities to start a masters in September.

  17. Jimmy

    Hi Manoel,

    very nice to read your article on OU. I am considering to study in OU next year, while i am not sure which degree to choose, Bachelor of data science or Bachelor of Computer & IT and statistics. I am planning to become a data scientist for pharmaceutical company in the future, may i seek your advice?



    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      I enjoyed my computing bachelor’s degree. But I don’t know how the OU runs its data science degree. So I can only give you general advice.

      If you’re sure you want to work as a data scientist, you might as well take that route now. However, if you think you might change your mind, then computing offers more breath and flexibility to reorient your studies as your goals become clearer over time.

      • Jimmy

        Thanks for your kind advice, Manoel

  18. Simon Hall

    Very informative article. I am in my second year of a Classical Studies bachelor’s degree and have found both the course delivery and the content excellent. No one should be in any doubt though: taking a degree with the OU is no walkover and you have to maintain the self-discipline to study on a regular basis.

    I would recommend attending the online tutorials offered by several different tutors, rather than just those given by your own tutor. I generally attend three or four tutorials (each given by a different tutor) for each TMA. I find this ensures the best possible coverage. Face to face tutorial sessions are out this year due to Covid, obviously, although I attended quite a few in 2019 – Again, I chose face to face events given by a range of different tutors. I have found the tutor quality to be generally very good, although of course some are better than others.

  19. Kate

    This is a really good and true outline of the OU. I am in my final year of a psychology degree with honours. I have enjoyed all of it. You need self-discipline, but as mentioned, you can work ahead with the online materials. The support has been fantastic. Sometimes you can feel alone when distance learning, but tutors and student support are always there, along with online tutorials and student forums. I also think the grading system is good. I believe that 85%+ reflects a first. These days it would seem that brick universities are handing out firsts like sweets and I do wonder if it is to make themselves look appealing to future students.
    I totally recommend studying with the Open University.

  20. Bea

    Hi Manoel

    A most informative post on the OU – thank you. I was wondering if you might be able to give me an idea of whether or not I’m on track for a First Degree (BA(Hons)): I received a Distinction for my second Level 2 module, having had a Pass 3 for my first Level 2 module (I intend to do another Level 2 module to try to get a much better grade). I’m currently doing my first Level 3 module: I’ve had a Pass 2 on my first two TMAs: marks of 83 and 75 respectively; a bit disappointing! So I was wondering if it’s still possible for me to end up with a First Degree, providing of course that I do far better in my three remaining TMAs and my EMA, as well as getting a better mark when I do get down to doing a further Level 2 module. Grateful for your opinion. Thank you.

    Best wishes,


  21. Penny

    I can’t believe I am half way through a Masters course with the OU when I find this article/page. This would have been hugely beneficial prior to applying as I couldn’t find anywhere with clear explination of how it all works. I can confirm that, as of Jan 2021, this information all still is pretty much exact.
    Even though I know their system now – thank you for putting this together as I am sure it will be a great help to someone else trying to decide to make the jump

    • Kristian

      Hi Penny,

      same is true for me. It is impossible to gain any information of how the grading works on the OU’s website – what is a shame I think.

  22. May Hu

    Oh, how nostalgic I felt reading this article, which really shows its author knows the OU very well. I graduated from the OU two years ago, after 10 years of very enthusiastic study in the fields, mainly, of Astrophysics and Biology, with a few other subjects (Maths of course, but also a bit of Literature and Art) thrown in. After an initial goal of studying towards a Physics Degree, I opted for the Open Degree because it suited my wide interests in Science and because of changes in my pathway; I never regretted it. I was a “mature” student and had already two Degrees from a brick Uni under my belt, but at the OU I learned inconceivably much more than in my previous degrees. However I must say that I did feel the OU was undergoing a rapid decline because of budget cuts and some not too wise decisions like the move to online-only courses. Luckily, over the years I managed to buy 2nd hand many books for OU courses I didn’t afford to take back then, and hope to keep on reading them for years.

    Of course, to study at the OU you must develop resilience, strong willpower, and find ways to keep motivated during the long path to your goal. For me, the many OU Facebook groups back them provided a nurturing scene to keep on, as did the Science Revision Weekends organized by the Student Association (OUSA) in England.

    All in all, a great adventure that strengthened my self-esteem, made me discover a new world and put me in contact with a lot of interesting people all over the world.

  23. Martin Attwood

    What a fantastic and accurate article, this will be a Godsend to new OU students and those thinking of taking the plunge. I am halfway through a BA Honours in History. The courses have been varied and interesting, early ones included Art history and early Greek and Roman philosophers. The second year Early modern Europe through the 16th, 17th and 18th century and the British isles from the French Revolution to the First World War. The third year is from the First World War to 1989 and you can do a thesis on local history. I took it up when I retired 2 years ago just to keep my mind active, as I have not had any education since I left school in the late 60’s with a handful of GCE ‘O’ levels, the essays have been a steep learning curve but I’m getting there. Hopefully I will have my degree in my 70th year. As it’s my first degree I even get it paid by a student loan, which you don’t have to pay back till you earn over £26,000pa, then it’s graded, because I am retired on a fixed income I only pay 10p for every pound over the base amount. Maybe I will use some savings and go on to do a Masters degree.

    • Helena Weaver

      How delightful to read someone planning to graduate (hopefully) in their 70th year! I’m 66 and feeling hungry to do a few modules in science for the sheer pleasure of it, so your post is really encouraging.

  24. Dara

    Why are the tutors referred to as ‘he’? Surely there are female academics in the OU?

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      Thanks. I’ve fixed it.

  25. Hoger

    Hallo everyone
    I just want to be clear ,i understood that the OU certificate is recognized in uk ,ist it also recognized is Europe?

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      OU honour degrees should be recognized across Europe like any other UK degree. Other types of credentials, I’m not so sure (for instance, undergraduate diplomas), because these aren’t necessarily harmonized between countries. So it’s always best to check. For instance, if you’d like to pursue a master’s degree outside the UK, I recommend asking the institution whether they’d recognize your OU undergraduate degree.

      You can find more info here: https://www.openuniversity.edu/study/qualifications/recognition/recognition-of-ou-qualifications-outside-the-uk

  26. wade

    hi Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it’s quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards,

  27. Mina

    Hello, I am from America and am trying to compare Open uni with University of London online for a Bachelor’s in a Business course. I have heard that Open uni has a lot more student support but I am worried about it being looked down upon. But the University of London is prestigious although I do not know how much student support they offer. What would UK employers want to look for if I am from America- An open uni degree or a UoL degree?

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      The OU is well known in the UK, so recognition by UK employers shouldn’t be an issue. In my experience, for-credit online education still sometimes suffers from an image problem, but the situation has improved a lot, in particular since the pandemic prompted an exodus to online education even in traditional universities.

      The University of London has more cachet, their BSc Computer Science (via Coursera) seems to be more affordable than a comparable OU degree, and they even offer taster courses so you can get an idea of how the program works before commiting to a full degree. This online degree didn’t exist back when I joined the OU. If it did, I would definitely have considered it.


  28. Tom Ertap Onay

    Hi there, I have completed an Open Degree with the OU with the subjects of IT & Computing. Because I have not completed the degree with Honours, my degree doesn’t have no classification. Now I want to study the Masters degree but maybe with a different online University. However, nearly all universities requirements are asking for classification – grade.

    My question is, is it possible to study the Masters with a OU open degree in a different university?

    Kind regards,


    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      My understanding is that without an honours bachelor’s degree, it’s much trickier to pursue a master’s degree. I recommending asking the specific institutions you have in mind if they’d accept your current degree. If they don’t, you might want to consider “topping-up” your qualification to a full honours degree:


  29. Charles

    Hi Everyone,

    I am based in NYC/US and I am interested in starting a BS Honors in Math and Statistics or Math and Physics at OU. I already have my BS and several STEM MS degrees but I’ve always wanted a degree from a UK school and to refresh my math and statistics which I studied two decades ago. My work schedule does not allow for in person classes and frankly at my age, I have no desire to sit in a traditional classroom. My concern is around the in person exams. I do not intend to fly to the UK for exams. Does OU have relationships with testing centers in NYC? Are there NYC students studying at OU?

    Thank You,

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      It seems that due to the pandemic, OU exams are currently done remotely (see below). That said, absent the pandemic, I know the OU could make exam arrangements even for learners living in remote places. So big cities, in particular, shouldn’t be a problem.


      I don’t remember any of my classmates living in the US, but if I’m not mistaken, students are grouped according to their location to facilitate live sessions. The OU doesn’t offers as many courses in the US as in the UK, but it’s close, and they went through the trouble of becoming regionally accredited in the US, which isn’t easy. So again, considering how big New York is, I think it’s safe to assume they have students there.

  30. Mark Elowitz

    I completed my PhD in Astrophysics (Astrochemistry research project) from the OU. I find the depth and length of the dissertation to be greater than in the US. However, in the US, one can jump directly from a B.Sc. degree to a PhD degree program. In the OU, I had to have a completed M.Sc. (with a thesis) before being admitted to the PhD program. The trade off is that no courses are required for the OU PhD program (it is all one in-depth research project), but about 1.5 to 2 years of courses are required for most US PhD programs before the dissertation research project begins. My Viva (equivalent to a US PhD defense) lasted many hours, and even after the final defense you still have to make updates and corrections to your dissertation. My dissertation ended up being about 300 pages long. The four years it took me to complete the PhD was very enjoyable, and I got to present my research work at several US astronomy conferences. In the UK, the PhD programs are treated more like a position – an apprenticeship between the candidate and his supervisors. This is not quite the case in the US. However, the US PhD is designed to allow the student to teach graduate level courses, while the UK PhD program is designed more for those interested in only pursuing research within the field of specialization.

  31. Ashwin

    Hi Manoel,

    This is a really insightful and helpful article. Did you consider any other providers apart from OU? Would be interested to understand why you felt OU was better than those

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      Back then, I didn’t consider other online degrees. Frankly, I didn’t even know there were legit online degrees until an acquaintance that worked in higher education told me about the OU and recommended it to me. If I hadn’t studied with the OU, I probably would have attended a brick university.

      If I were to do it all over again, I’d also consider UoL’s BS CS on Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/degrees/bachelor-of-science-computer-science-london

  32. Nate

    Do you have to commute to the UK at all if you live in the US? Or can I do my whole bachelor’s from the US without needing to go to the UK?

  33. Alee Jo

    I would like to do my undergraduate degree in Psychology at OU, and then go on to apply for masters at Harvard.
    If anyone knows whether my Bachelor’s degree (if I were to get it from OU) will be accepted in my application to any US university, please let me know.

  34. Rebecca B

    This is a fantastic article and is still very true for today. I am just about to finish my first level 2 module for my BSc Honours in Computing and IT and while yes it is very hard work (I am no spring chicken anymore) it is also incredibly rewarding to get good marks.

    The tutors I have had have been great and one I had (for 2 of my level 1 modules) was just outstanding, really went above and beyond. I was really lucky to have him across 2 modules.

    I can’t compare it to a bricks and mortar university as unfortunately I was never able to go, it is one of the reasons I am doing this now in later life, to fulfil a life long regret but there is no better place to study than the Open University.

    If you put the hard work in, you will reap the benefits.

  35. Domingo

    Hi Manoel,

    I’m considering enrolling in the OU Creative Writing BA. I don’t have a High School diploma and haven’t really studied in a long while; do you think that maybe enrolling in a Foundations course would be a more sensible choice before tackling a full-fledged degree? Thanks a lot.

    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      As I understand it, starting with an Access module would be recommended in your case. They seem very much designed for circumstances like yours. I believe this is the Access module for the Creative Writing BA:


      My circumstances were a bit different, so I didn’t take one. But, in general, I prefer to play it safe in my studies. I usually take things slow and increase the difficulty progressively. I’d start there if I were you.

      Additionally, I’d recommend this online course: https://www.classcentral.com/course/learning-how-to-learn-2161


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