back to article Stob latest: It was a cunning trick, says Open University

Why does the Open University set its students gibberish, Verity Stob asked here recently? We decided to investigate. As our enquiries continued at the Open University, it became harder to find anyone who took the issue seriously. Two weeks into one of the modules in the OU's Comp Sci postgraduate course - M885 Analysis and …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. John F

    Sadly, the OU has quality assurance issues...

    I've had similar experiences with my partner's courses at the OU. Although there's huge amounts of good stuff and many well developed courses, others are badly run or badly marked, and there's no ability to challenge it, even when everyone on the course seems to agree. It seems to be accepted that every so often a course will just be rubbish, no refunds, no marking it better. They're basically a bit of a government monopoly for what they do, and I think it shows.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Waste of £380 a course if you ask me.

    I think you’ll find that most, if not all their courses are full of off topic, incomplete ramblings, and random gibberish. Into my 4th course now and I’m still waiting to learn something new. Still, it’s a degree at end of the day.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Amazing really. Be good to hear from any others who've taken this (or similar) courses to see whether they routinely plant these bogus questions/papers...or whether ALL the research papers were complete gibberish.

    It calls into question the integrity of the other computing courses the OU runs, frankly.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one

    Welcome our question avoiding overlords.

  5. Ash

    Not just OU courses

    Many university courses have similar problems, this isn't unique to the OU.

  6. Marvin the Martian

    I forgive Stob everything.

    Her first two or three articles I skimmed, incredulous that such unfunny tripe should escape from Britain, Birthplace Of Funny, Wit, Selfdeprecation, Deadpan and so forth. Then I remembered Benny Hill and let it slide.

    This OpenU debacle however is interesting, sad/funny, wellwritten... I forgive everything.

  7. Philip Harvey
    Thumb Up

    Great article!

    Sounds like the OU is a money grabbing sham though.

  8. Dale Richards


    ...keep us up-to-date with any developments on this story. I was just inches away from booking myself some OU tuition when Verity blew the initial whistle, and now I'm losing faith with each new bit of cover-up and denial they come out with.

  9. Robert Flatters

    Do they know what they are on about?

    I found it interesting that someone who has not even bothered to read something and then ask student to comment on dose not fill me with confidence. And if the said doctor cannot be bothered then they should leave the OU and try something building a house out of stones...without the stones.

  10. Justin Case

    How very Nu-Lab

    Standards have slipped - the refusal to engage is typical. The lies, spin and hypocrisy - I could weep for the soul of a once august institution.

  11. Dave Ashton

    first course

    I'm in the last 2 weeks of a forensic computing course. Its the first time its been run and on the most part its been excellent. Very hard, and challenging on levels I didnt even realise it would touch on. Its far too much for a 15 point course, and i spend 30 hours a week on it easily which is making me very tired. Toward the end the content tailed off and the final ECA (think:exam) is total bollocks in my opinion. The course content for the first 3/4 was fantastic.

    It probably helps that it was written by Peter Sommer who seems to have an impressive reputation in the field and isnt OU staff.

    From speaking to a friend who used work there, there is an endless "acdemics vs the business" environment. The course materials are often stunningly good, but at a cost. The academics refuse to budge on quality, the business wants to lower quality slightly to ensure they can keep running. I believe academics there have a sort of tenure, and rule the roost. The business is slightly more with the times and has to balance that against current economic factors.

  12. peter Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Good work Andrew

    Good work, Andrew. Keep it up. These people are supposed to be the cream of our intellectuals; if they don't have the backbone to condemn the linguistic slush Verity uncovered then they shouldn't be teaching. And while we might not be able to catch all these jobsworth academics, maybe the efforts of the fourth estate can make them think twice. Critical thinking? My arse!

  13. Richard Cartledge

    Kya hua sarjan ji?

    Much of the printed OU material has been outsourced to a company in India. It is collated and typeset there, but still printed in the UK. Maybe they are now creating the content too?

  14. Mick F
    Thumb Down


    The tutors are little help as well. More wrapped up in their own self importance than helping & advising.

  15. James Anderson

    Liar Liar pants on Fire!

    They were caught sleeping on the job and are caliming they were just stress testing the sofa.

    Verity should take this up with the trading standards office. She paid good money for a course whose materials had clearly never been read by the author of the course and were clearly not fit for purpose!

    I hope this runs and runs!

    P.S. Sorry Verity, but, somehow I think you are going to fail this course for disturbing your tutors sleep.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seen it from the other side....

    I used to work in HE, my job title was "Senior Lecturer".... I work in industry now where my job title is "programmer".

    1) In my (limited - I only worked at 1 Uni for just over 5 years) experience a lot of un-verified tat ends up in HE courses, basically the staff either don't have the time (the dilligent ones who try and do everything well) or can't be arsed (the less dilligent ones who spend 3 hours in the pub every day) to develop good assessments. It takes a lot of time and care to do it right.

    2) You will be waiting a long long time to get an admission that something was WRONG from an HE company/institution - they are now a business, the students are customers. If they admit they did something sub-standard, think how much it will cost them.

  17. Michael

    It's a bad paper

    but to be honest, I've read much worse.

  18. Kevin Bailey
    Thumb Down

    The OU has smashed itself in the foot

    Many of us in IT only have lower level qualifications such as my own HNC.

    We would like to 'tick the box' and get to degree level as this could also help with our careers - and as we're working full-time the OU is the only option.

    The worry here is that not so much that gibberish has been handed out to students who have wasted their time but that the OU don't seem to care.

    So - I've now removed that unticked box from my mind and will concentrate on decent qualifications such as LPI etc.

    The OU should remember that it stands or dies by its reputation and should do more to look after it - and there's no more anal people than us techies and we won't put up with BS.

  19. Naadir Jeewa
    Paris Hilton

    Academic norms

    You do, from time to time, come across articles like that plagiarized piece of nonsense. It's important to recognize that this problem isn't limited to postmodernist journals, like the infamous Sokal Social Text affair.

    I've done Computer Science to masters level, and I don't think I've once been assigned a nonsensical paper. I'm now doing a degree in politics and sociology, and the quality is still high. The choice of course materials invariably reflect on the course designer, and it seems that the damage limitation began from the beginning - with new levels of damage limitation introduced as each preceding one failed. I.E. Epic fail!

    I wonder if there's anything in the quantity of nonsensical papers being indirectly proportional to the age of the discipline involved. Postmodernist social theory and computer science (separate to mathematics) are similarly young disciplines. Also, note the wide variety between mathematics-heavy computer science courses taught at Russell Group universities, and the business-oriented approach of new universities. Computer Science is simply not well institutionalised, but the bar would probably be higher if it was.

    Paris, because she's jealous of Britney's PhD in semiconductor physics (google it).

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not surprised: Ince is incompetent.

    I'm not surprised by this story. About 15 years ago I reviewed one of Ince's books on OO. It was complete crap and showed he had no understanding of OO.

    About 7 years ago I took two MSc courses with the OU. One was excellent, User Interface Evaluation and Design, and the other, by Ince, was the predecessor to the course Stob is commenting on. It was awful. The quality of the course materials was laughable. The sample code provided was embarassing and there were major elements that demonstrated that Ince is still a charlatan.

    Professor Daryl Ince is the living embodiment of the expression: If you can't do, then teach.

  22. Piers
    Thumb Up

    [+1] Keep it up el Reg

    oh - my comment is in the <title>

  23. Mad as a Bat
    Thumb Down

    Well I had considered doing an OU course but...

    ... now I think I will decline.

    The worrying part for me is that the tutors involved had failed to read the paper in question in detail. It's not cheap to do an OU course, I'd like to think that the tutors involved were taking it seriously. This whole episode calls the tutor's involvement into question. I don't think that I'll be throwing any money at the OU anytime soon.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unicycles aren't popular?

    I would stay clear of Sandford in Dorset this weekend if that's what you think. There will be a few people who disagree with you.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It was a trap to test critical thinking"? lies.

    Bollocks. Sorry I don't believe this.

    When I took the predecessor course to this one it came with some truly awful Java "server" code to which you were supposed to write some client code.

    I decided to re-write the server code: hey perhaps they were looking for critical thinking. I also wrote the required client, completely compatible with the crappy OU server code and my server complied with the interface as well. Woohoo extra points for me!

    What actually happened? I lost 25% of the marks for re-writing the server code, even though I completed the exercise correctly. I was told to only do what I was asked to do.

    So I am sorry, Mr OU PR man, but I think you're lying.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    I'm actually surprised nobody has criticised IEEE for allowing such publication to be published. Regarding the cost of the course... it's £940+ and not £380 as stated in an earlier post. There is no state subsidy for post-graduate education. I've studied with the Open University since 2000 and even though some courses had it's problems, generally the standard of their course materials are quite high. As the complainant of M885 was studying this course as her first Open University Course, I wonder if the complainant had visited the Open University Library to review the course materials first (or speak to a student advisor) before taking the course? Probably not.

    Paris Hilton.. because she likes to do things first and then complain later.

  27. Hugh_Pym

    In support of OU tutors

    I'm getting to the end of an OU computing degree and though there have been some downers (Anyone ever read 'Blown to Bits' for example). Overall the standards has been very good and the tutors I have had have been excellent. Being part time most have both industry and academic experience.

    I must say that whenever the subject of training and education comes up dozens of 'I knew more than my tutor' or 'I was right everyone else was wrong' comments come out. Usually with 'that's why I gave up/failed' attached.

  28. Luther Blissett

    Not just the OU - critical thinking not really welcome

    Critical thinking appears now to be little more than a voodoo mantra trotted out by academics of all disciples to demarcate "us" (the academic jobsworths who are selling it, and therefore must be assumed to have it in order to sell it) and "you"/"them" (the student customers of academia - sic- who don't, and are there in order to buy it, and hey, it's not going to be valued if it comes too cheap). How else can one account for the self-evidently contradictory corner the OU has retreated into under some simple scrutiny from the Reg? (Say boo!)

    Whatever, the OU has on the face it admitted either that it is competent as a whole but bungled the assessment of Ms Stob's submitted work, or that it is simply incompetent but not necessarily negligent in regard to one specific case. Were Ms Stob so minded, I think a letter for reimbursement of all outgoings incurred in signing up for this OU tripe should do the trick. If not, then the pleasure should be all Ms Stob's and her legal representative's.

    Surprisingly, the jobsworths on the humanities side of acadmia are not always so leaden-brained. A couple of years ago, I attended a university modern languages course, whose content turned out to be just as intellectually dubious, without an underlying rationale that the perpetrators wished to defend in any rigorous way. Two critical essays were submitted. The marks they were awarded were impeccably fair. The first was given exactly 50%. The second was given a mark precisely midway between the 1st grade and the fail grade. In neither case was it clear that the import of the submissions had been understood. In one case the tutor actually justified her appraisal as: "I am confused by this essay. Therefore this essay is confusing. Therefore this essay is confused". So it's worth remembereing that if you've nothing better to do, and you want a good laugh, there is always university - as long as nothing depends on it. Of course I cannot recommend that establishment for that particular course.

    Regrettably "critical thinking" and allied mantras and rituals (gatekeeping, politically correct kowtowing to fashionable notions, tribally hierarchic access to the public teat) can be observed holding back intellectual progress in many different domains. But in a hyperreal world, why should ivory towers be an exception?

  29. David Harper

    In defence of the OU's computing courses

    Between 2003 and 2006, I studied seven modules from the same OU postgraduate computing programme as the module taken by the redoubtable Ms Stob, and with only one exception, they were excellent, intellectually challenging and entirely devoid of gibberish. Several of them involved reading and analysing research papers, which is entirely appropriate for graduate-level courses.

    The exception was T853 "Information Systems Legacy and Evolution", which was the final course I took for my postgraduate diploma. It felt much more like a social sciences course than an I.T./technology module. The course material included references to Jurgen Habermas, a social theorist, for example.

    I managed to pass the course, although my exam mark was substantially below anything I'd achieved in the six previous courses, and also well below the mark I'd obtained in the assessed coursework for T853. I felt a good deal better when I discovered that 86% of the class had scored 54 or lower (out of 100) in the exam. More than half of us fell in the 40-54 band, and nobody had an exam score above the 55-69 band.

  30. Andre

    Better to go to a proper uni..

    My missus went to a 'proper' uni while I did a OU course in the evenings. After talking to some of her fellow students I found someone who was doing the same course as I was. His material (from the 'proper' place) was clear and understandable, he had far less work, and didn't turn up to 3/4 lectures. Exams came and 3 years later he has a good degree after working hard for the exams. I gave up after 3 months as the volume of work (6+hours a day), terrible material (as per the article) and unhelpful tutors were doing my head in. Better to save for a few years and enroll at a decent university, skip lectures and work hard at exams. That way at least your degree will be worth more than the paper its printed on when you go to another country...

  31. Anonymous Coward

    double shame

    Firstly, for the OU: any course tutor worth their salt (1) READ the material they recommend to their students (even I did it, and it was a catch-up course on A-level chemistry!) and (2) when crap material is included (mistakes happen) do something about it, no push their head in their arse and go LALALALALALA.

    Secondly, for the IEEE: I now work in science publishing (hence AC), and any suggestion of plagiarism on the extent demonstrated here would lead to the paper being retracted, with apologies from the editor in chief for letting such crap through. We actually threatened to ban an author from publishing in our journal because he insisted on including a figure from another paper, for "illustration" purposes. I believe he was told we don't publish image books. If the IEEE really is a "respected publication", as the consensus seems to be (not my area, can't judge), they have to crack down on this as it discredits them and the peer-review system.

  32. Andrew

    Paper withdrawn from IEEE

    Did the reg contact IEEE (who published the paper)? The link to the paper given in the OU's question takes you to their page where it is stated that, due to plagiarism, the paper "has been found to be in violation of IEEE's Publication Principles."

    So IEEE have apparently eaten a slab of humble pie - will that pass a bit more incentive to OU to do the same?

  33. Rob Beard

    Oh the irony!

    I love the irony, the advert on the comments section is for Open University courses in IT.

    I think I'll pass and go for something like LPI instead.

    Really good article, I can't believe the OU get away with this.


  34. Mike Taylor

    OU course quality

    I've studied at the OU and other universities. The OU's course quality (in psychology) was first rate. This sounds like rubbish, and it's a shame, because I'm in the process of picking a post-grad course.

  35. Steven Raith

    Trick question?

    Isn't that a bit like the Bill Hicks sketch regarding dinosuars, with St Peters at the pearly gates casting you down to hell for believing they were real?

    "You asshole, God was fucking with you!"

    "But it seemed so plausible - aaaaargh..."

    Seriously, I'm all for high and exacting standards of education, but Jesus fucking Christ, there's a limit to how much piss you can take, isn't there? I was thinking of backing up my practical experience with an OU degree in CompSci or business processes of some manner, but if that is how they operate, I don't think I'll bother.

    There is a lot of talk about how degrees are worthless these days etc, perhaps it's gone full circle and the people who are setting the courses are the thick ones?

    Flame, because this sort of excuse making - why can no-one just hold their hands up and say "Yes, that looks a bit dodgy, we screwed up and we'll change it"? - really fucks me off to the hilt.

    Steven R

    PS: Cheers for the quote, I was just disappointed I removed the reference to 'mewling cabbages' being the ones operating the shredder and holding the tub of PVA glue from that line before I posted it...

  36. Law

    That's just education....

    While studying my degree at a pretty decent university, one of my first lessons involved getting to grips with an operating system.... it was completely pathetic things like change the time on the machine etc... but compulsory.

    The problem was, the machines we were to use were admin controlled networked systems - completely locked down, so we couldn't do simple things like change the time, or system information or control panel, we couldn't even change the screensavers!!

    Eventually I had the option of attempting to hack the machine (which at the time was fairly easy) or show that it couldn't be done on the machines given, but explain it verbally so she understood I knew how. So I chose the non-violation of university rules way and chose to explain it all to the tutor. I said "We have a problem, it can't be done on these machines because they are locked down, see..." then I showed the error messages. Her reply was "If you can't do it, then it's a fail.".

    So I got a fail for the unit, as did the whole of the class, and we got threatened with being thrown out. A few arguments by most of the year and the department agreed we would have the unit ignored and we could all stay... not a pass, not an apology, nothing like that - just ignored. So I'm assuming she did the same thing to the next year too.

    To be fair though, she was an evil whore - and to make it worst, she spent the next few years making our lives a living hell.

    Perhaps an overseeing watchdog for higher education is needed, where you can lodge official complaints, and if found to be in the wrong universities are penalised somehow - and a 3 strikes rule for offending lecturers/examiners... then again... maybe not

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Good OU courses

    have done S102 science which was excellent, B120 business which was excellent and last year T175 "Networked living: exploring information and communication technologies" in which I had a tutor who (almost) didn't exist. The tutor was *so useless* that I'm sure I'd have got better and faster marks if an unseen university orang-utang had been my supervisor instead.

    Worth doing the OU courses tho', in my case employer coughs up a bit for them and it goes on the CV and is seen as a very positive thing for continuing employment prospects.

  38. Mark W

    OU Consistency Issues

    I'm just finishing S279 (Geology / Earth and Life) - yes, I know it's not IT - and the whole of Book 1 was just mind-numbingly badly written. The forums on the OU lit up with people berating the standard of the writing - it was written like chinese stereo instructions and as Tom Baker classically once said 'Are you sure this wasn't translated from the f***ing Albanian?'.

    They were asking questions in TMA's about detail that just wasn't in the book, and teaching you phrases for something and then asking you questions on something totally different which just confused everyone.

    I for one want to get my Degree that I never got, but not if I keep on having to get Bletchley Park to translate my course books into English for me.

  39. Tony


    OK, I'll quite happily set myself for a flaming.

    I'be been doing a number of courses at the OU - finished my 8th earlier this year, all at PG level. I would now be preparing to start my Masters dissertation, but there are a number of projects at work under way, and I won't have time for the research etc, so I'm going to do a couple more courses just to keep my hand in until next year.

    The courses are at Post Graduate level and I would expect them to be seen as such. However, I regularly see people commenting on material, and I have to ask if they understand the difference between school learning and the kind of guided tuition that comes with HE. Of the courses I did, all but one I found to be enjoyable, challenging, informative and very worth while; the that I did have issues with, I feel much the same way as Verity about M885 - but I still feel that I learnt something.

    HE is not for everyone, despite what the politicos say; and it's foolish to think that everyone will benefit from that route. However, for those (like myself) that for whatever reason chose not to go to Uni, the OU offers the opportunity to do the kind of study at a higher level that would otherwise not have been possible.

    Is it perfect?; no, absolutely not. However, generally the courses seem to be on par with those from other institutions and in some cases, better. Certainly the level of satisfaction amongst students is higher - but that could be because we are more mature / more motivated.

    Just my two pennorth. Let the flames commence

  40. Chris Matchett

    Try Birkbeck for degree study in the evenings

    They ain't perfect but certainly a lot better than this and other examples I have seen from OU.

    A collegue did an OU course and all the questions were about obsolete technology that wasn't reelevant to the central topics nor useful to any professional.

    Birkbeck do have a decentish IT department too. I did my degree with them while holding down a full time job.

  41. GrahamT

    You can't judge a University on one paper/course/professor

    I did my bachelor's with the OU. I had struggled with maths for years ( I failed "A" level maths, but did slightly better at HNC) I did a second level maths unit for my Technology degree and it was if a blindfold had been removed; I suddenly "got" maths. By the end of the course I had gone from struggling with Laplace to being comfiortable with multi-dimensional vector morphisms, and got a distinction for the unit. That is quality teaching which I hadn't had in 10+ years of secondary education.

    Other units were just as good and challenging, and the OU made money by selling the materials to other Universities.

    At the time I worked as a technician at a trad university and not only was the Reader for my course also the senior professor of my department at that University, but he had written the set book for my HNC course. The department I was in used OU materials as part of their degree teaching too.

    Obviously things change over the years and some courses have issues, but that shouldn't put people off. Talk to other OU students for the course you want to take, rather than believe comments by people that wouldn't know a TMA from a CMA.

    (If you want poor teaching material, then you should have seen my son's GCSE Electronics course book; the example circuits had short circuits, reverse biased electrolytics and other basic faults. Most would never have worked as described in the text. Unfortunately his teacher didn't have the ability to understand why no one in the class could get them to work.)

    GT (BA Open)

  42. Tim Robson

    Not all distance learning is crap

    It just depends on where you go. The Uni I just graduated from offers a remote Masters program in CS, and from talking with some folks that run the distance learning programs, and knowing that the school lavishes resources on its technical side, I would see it as being a good program.

    Having said that, you get what you pay for. It's a US based school, and expensive on top of it. Average private undergrad is under $24,000/year. (Source: ) This place, I was paying $28,000 just for tuition. It is more expensive, sometimes significantly so. They charge extortionate rates, but you learn a lot from them.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One Bad Egg

    "Obviously things change over the years and some courses have issues, but that shouldn't put people off. "

    This is true, one bad egg and all, the problem is when the establishment refuses to admit that the egg is bad and change it. This then sullies their entire reputation, and like other people have said they will live and die by this.

    The OU can stop this by saying, yes this course material is sub standard we are sorry and will rectify it before the course is run again. And if the same lecturer is constantly bad sack them. Job done.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    A familiar story

    I both work in HE and I'm studying for an MSc myself. This looks like a familiar case where a module name is updated for marketing reasons, but some/most of the content is from a past incarnation.

    As for the language of the paper, I now recognise it as part of the scholastic journey to adopt the academic style and to mimick the incomprehensible gibberish. The more obtuse the language and dissembled the ideas, the harder it is for others to shoot you down . In fact true esteem lies in being barely able to understand your own ideas. Therefore, the simple answer to the question posed, is to re-arrange the order of these words using an algorithm of your choice with a few terms borrowed from another discipline e.g. sociology, thrown in for good measure.

    It is important not to confuse academic writing with communication - a common, real world mistake. The skills of academic gibberish are fully transferrable to learning management gibberish. So if you want to progress, don't be put off, stick with it.

  45. Peter Sommer
    IT Angle

    Forensic Computing

    Can I thank Dave Ashton for his kind remarks about OU M889, the Digital Investigations and Forensic Computing course?

    I hope he will persist with the End of Course Assessment (ECA) despite his current view that it is bollocks. What he is asked to do is discuss the preparation of a Forensic Readiness Program (FRP) for a specific organisation. FRPs are first-cousins to traditional contingency plans but focus on the ability of an organisation to produce reliable evidence from its systems. FRPs are a requirement in HMG Infosec Standard No 2 because it is far better to have planned to be able to produce good evidence rather than hope that, during a panic-stricken event, some computer forensics wizard is going to find the goods - always supposing some amateur has not inadvertently destroyed the evidence anyway.

    As he says, the course is on its first run and we hope to improve as we go on.

    Can't comment on any other OU course, as Dave also says - I am not OU staff.

  46. John Doe
    Paris Hilton

    Should've replied with 'mu' :-)

    Good article, good student, bad-to-dumb 'university'. How much time did they spend inventing that quite ridiculous cover story at the local pub?

    Paris 'cos even she knows when she's reading gibberish.

  47. phat shantz

    How to Attract the Igrnorant

    Q: How can one attract the ignorant?

    A: Open a university.

    In a classic "marriage made in heaven," online universities attract a market no one else has served. This market includes those who 1) need the advanced degree, and 2) cannot afford the time, disruption, or cost of returning to those Ivy-covered halls.

    Since more and more ignorant employers (e.g. government) set academic certification as their first screening hurdle, it is less important that the credential holder know the material than that s/he possess the credential. S/he must only produce the precious paper. (There exists no one in personnel nor anyone in the hiring department who can ask the appropriate questions that would reveal an academic fraud.)

    This academic requirement was far easier to fulfill 20 years ago when the diploma-mill ran at break-neck speeds. (I confess, I truly wanted a Ph.D. in Samoan Art History from Pacific Western University. But alas, they were prosecuted before I could find the time to send the fee.)

    The attraction remains; one side needs meaningless credentials, another side strongly desires to confer them. Some busy-body has decided, though, that these diploma mills needed oversight. (It was probably the same government agency who lit the fire under the industry by demanding meaningless credentials as a prerequisite to working for the government. The irony is delicious.)

    The result is a tight-wire of conformance vs. expedience. So long as enough coursework appears legitimate, some coursework can remain worthless. Balance is met: the veneer of legitimacy covers the wormwood.

    And don't for a moment think this indictment rests solely on the online educators. Brick-and-mortar -- formerly venerable and respected -- universities face the same challenges that pit fiscal and academic forces against each other. I estimate that the level of tripe in traditional universities is lower, but the tripe exists, and for the same reasons. Costs.

    Those seeking nothing more than the credential will do what they must do and celebrate the end of the road when the credential is conferred. Those seeking real enlightenment will have a much smaller celebration at the receipt of credentials, but then begin the lifelong climb to the higher ground.

    As always, the burden for betterment rests on the students's shoulders, not on the professor. It is this way and always has been. Those who attended the ivy-covered halls of traditional university and those who miss every aspect of that experience, save for the poor instruction, are identical in two important aspects.

    Firstly, they will both have a certification that means absolutely nothing beyond clicking past that decision gate in HR.

    Secondly, they will never be educated unless they personally and eternally dedicate themselves to their own merciless, ceaseless pursuit of knowledge.

    My alma mater?

    Wassamatta U.

  48. This post has been deleted by its author

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To some extent you get what you pay for

    I work in post-graduate education (hence being an anonymous coward today). If you work out the costs involved in employing people, and paying overheads, and so on, and compare them with fees, you quickly come to the conclusion that universities are working on a shoe-string. And it shows.

    Remember that you're expecting a master's course to be up-to-date, and so the one designing the course has to spend a considerable amount of their time staying, er, up-to-date.

    Our course is rather expensive. And we devote quite a lot of effort to quality.

    [Incidentally the dig at formal methods vs OO is unwarranted. Some people would go so far as to say OO is the collection of bits of formal methods that actually worked.]

  50. thomas k.

    @ neil hanvey

    " ... that seem to be generated by monkeys with typewriters."

    Do you play Guild Wars, sir? You seem to be familiar with my guild - MwT.

    I can assure you, though, that we are not involved in any way with supplying course materials for this or any other institution of higher learning.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    There was once a time whe only approx 10% could pass the 11+, now the government aims to have 50% of the population go to HE and get a degree!

    What standard are the degrees??

    Unfortunately this is merely a reflection of the lowering of standards in education that now makes degrees worthless.

    Prior to the current policy OU degrees were worth having and were regarded more highly than those of many HE establishments because of the amount of effort they took as well as the content. Now......?

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    It does make sense

    I won't comment on the technical aspects, but the writing itself made sense to me. I'm currently working on a PhD in History, and I read shit like that all the time. Most of it, however, is written by ancient English authors, who seem to specialize in convolutedness.

  53. Peter Simpson

    A skeptic would say

    There appears to be a subculture of "universities" that cater to those trying to acquire a degree while working. There are several around me here in Boston. I have always suspected that they (a) attach themselves (or are spun off from) universities that have a good reputation for traditional (full time) undergraduate programs, and (b) know that employers are paying a portion of the fees.

    The true skeptic would say that they see a market and exploit it. A good example is a well known university in this area which has long emphasised a co-operative education, sending its undergraduates out for a semester or two working in industry. It has an excellent reputation. However, its evening and part time division has a reputation which is not quite as stellar. This organization hires part-time instructors (who often work a day job and are picking up some extra cash by working nights as part-time instructors) and somewhat more lax standards (both for instructors and course content). Suffice it to say that the evening courses are nowhere near the standard of the day, full time, ones. But they cost the same (or more, as you're taking them a-la-carte, if you will, rather than as a 4-year integrated program). Degree requirements can almost be guaranteed to change during the time you spend trying to get enough evening courses taken to finish. This means more courses than you had planned, and, of course, more of your time and money.

  54. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @ Dave Ashton

    Kudos to you sir - I think you just earned yourself a pass.

  55. Anonymous Coward

    credentialed obfuscation

    @phat shantz: Well said, sir.

    I used to teach math (or maths to those of you across the pond) at University level. I started as a grad. asst. at the prestigious institution where I eventually obtained my MA, and then went to other, not quite so green, pastures.

    Since this happened in 1990, just as Communism fell, everybody had to compete with a tsunami of Soviet mathematicians desperate to escape the former USSR and start over, who were perfectly happy to take an entry-level asst prof. position at below-market rates. This put the squeeze on those of us who didn't have pages-long publication lists on their CVs.

    As a result, even small Liberal Arts Colleges, and even Community Colleges, could ask for, and get, PhDs to teach remedial courses. I wound up with a succession of sabbatical replacements and other temporary positions, so I saw a lot of different learning environments in the short time before I got disgusted and went into industry.

    First of all, grade inflation is alive and well in Academia. At one school, the Dean/VP told me "these students pay $20,000 a year to come here. We have to keep them happy." I replied that I wasn't going to pass them if they didn't do the work, or even bother coming to class. She said "Oh no, of course not." But she still fired me after one semester.

    Coddling of students has reached massive proportions, especially when it comes to "accomodations" for "disabilities". So many students get certified as learning disabled when it comes to math, its mind-boggling. I used to comment that it wouldn't be long before someone filed a discrimination suit because the mentally retarded were under-represented among PhDs and we would soon see doctorates being awarded in shoe-tying and dressing yourself. Then one day I repeated that comment to a government scientist where I work now. He said "what makes you think they *are* under-represented?" When I read some of the garbage that I'm asked to post on the web, I see his point.

    Second, the slave labor known over here as "adjunct faculty" are treated like dirt. I'm not familiar with the professional designations over there, but I imagine someone teaching a distance learning course at a place called Open University is probably similar. I once looked into teaching a University of Phoenix online course, but the pay was insulting. The also expected me to pas a test on the use of their "educational software," more commonly known as Outlook Express. I told them thanks, but no thanks. I might think about it if I'm ever starving. So far, I haven't been that hungry.

  56. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Stop your whining...

    I did my Oceanography degree with the OU and it was fab. I've since changed my career and realised my lifes goal of becoming a sperm whale.

    Next I thought I might sign up to a Computeach course that I saw advertised on TV because employers are looking for the qualifications. If I do this I could earn up to £25,000 per year.

    Put that salary up yer kilt and stroke it!!!

  57. Joseph Gregory

    Peer Reviewed

    Quote: It had been endorsed by "a prestigious peer-reviewed journal". That clarifies the level of OU teaching then.

    If the gibberish was about the impact of global warming, it would be impossible to figure out the truth from the excess of alarmist crap anyway.

  58. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Not surprised

    Since the middle 80s I've gained 2 OU computing units (as an associate student) and also looked over the shoulders of friends taking another 3.

    All of them were either irrelevant or seriously out of date. There were fairly obvious errors in all of them. I regard them as a waste of time and money.

    These are the only units I've seen so can't, of course comment, on any other subject matter.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Aussie OU is just as bad

    The OU setup here seems to be a bit different - to do my BAppSci(IT) I have to pick units from 4 'real' universities - the standards of each unit varies from the 'wow' to the 'what a complete waste of time (a '3rd yr database course springs to mind) - but mostly its in the 'huh?' area - how students with no IT background pass is a mystery to me.

    I learnt more in a week long courses paid for by my employer (Java, Proj Mgt, C, C++, Database /Object/Analysis Design) than I have in the 2 years (studying fulltime through OUA) and have calculated that if unis treat the Bachelor level as a degree mill(which they do now) we can finish a degree in a year (1 week short course at a time !)

  60. phat shantz
    Paris Hilton

    Fortune 500 University

    We don't want an education. We just want the paper. And Wassamatta U. is happy to oblige. No one cares except the huge multi-national corporations. And the medium-sized regional companies. And the small businesses. And Ma and Pop stores. They are all victims of academic fraud. The credential says the candidate can do the work. But they can't.

    Not now, but soon there will be a demand to improve education. But don't ask the drunkard for the solution to alcoholism. Don't ask the college presidents for the solution to academic fraud.

    The solution to academic fraud must come from those who stand to gain the most from better education -- those who need the educated employees.

    Boeing needs engineers. They should teach them internally, to standards that exceed their requirements.

    Dow needs chemists. They should teach them internally, to standards that exceed their requirements.

    Wal-Mart needs cashiers. They, too, should train them in simple arithmetic and personal skills.

    None of these companies can find employment candidates of sufficient skills or experience, regardless of academic background. Many years ago I learned of a major American employer who had started basic literacy classes because their line workers could not read. (Anyone wonder why we've replaced low-skilled labor with robots?) I know of a major American retailer who teaches arithmetic and change-counting to their trainees. And they hire mainly high-school graduates.

    The trend for college graduates is not much more encouraging. A group of Ph.D. biochemists worked for seven months at an R&D facility before an outsider introduced basic standardization techniques that chemists should learn in 101. They were in utter failure before that. The academic system had failed a whole department of Ph.D.s, and consequently a large biochemical company. Businesses will soon begin to protect themselves by teaching their own.

    Before long, business will realize the benefits of taking capable candidates and educating and training them to the specifics of the industry: aeronautics, mechanics, chemistry, physics, mathematics, management, systems architecture, programming, warehouse management, distribution, international commerce, and the host of unique roles that make each business different.

    In previous decades, airlines found enormous benefits in ab-initio (from the start) training of pilots. Taking candidates who didn't even have a single-engine land certificate, airlines like Lufthansa and American Airlines would train pilots all the way to Air Transport Pilot in less than two years. And it would be done "their way." Any pilot working for the company would respond exactly the same way, with exactly the same words, to any situation. The cockpit management and emergency procedures of these commonly-trained teams was a phenomenon.

    Once trained, industry graduates could be granted an industry-specific certification, very much like the ones we wave about during interviews. (They mean nothing, either, but we still brandish them like blessings from heaven.) Would Exxon hire a Dow chemist? I think so. Would General Dynamics hire a Boeing engineer? I'd think they would.

    Nobody would have to worry about grade inflation. The best and brightest would not apply to Cal Tech or Florida State. They would apply to 3M or General Electric. And they would be rewarded with the kind of education that companies will need in the coming decades.

    Were this to happen, and I an optimist, I would think the exodus of superior freshman candidates from engineering and science programs would be a warning sign and encourage failing universities to pursue greater academic rigor. But I'm a pessimist. It will only accelerate the academic trend of attracting the greater and greater numbers of elementary education, home economics, and journalism majors.

    After all, for every hard-to-find physics major candidate, there are 1,000 easy-to-find education major candidates. And they both spend equal amounts of money at the registrar's office.

    I fear classical education has died. No one wants the one thing the classical education guaranteed, anyway: a common cultural, scientific, and philosophic foundation on which to build the remaining life and career.

    Nobody wants to earn an education, either. Everybody wants the job that George Jettson had, pushing a button all day. Can't we train rats to do that?

    Paris. 'Cause she pushes everybody's buttons.

  61. James Anderson

    @You can't judge a University

    "You can't judge a University on one paper/course/professor"

    Why not the person who set the course either had not read the paper or worse read it but did not know his subject well enough to realise it was gibberish.

    The tutor on the course by his own admission had not read the paper, yet was still prepared to mark answers on question about the paper.

    When these filures were pointed out the OU as an organisation refused to admit there was anything wrong and implied the student was somehow at fault.

    So we have a gibberish papers included in a course, tutors who have never read the material and mark students down for pointing out that a paper is giberish, and an organisation that refuse to admit or correct obvious failings.

    One gibberish paper creeping into a course may have been forgiven, a lazy and unhelpful tutor may have just been bad luck, but an organsation that pockets a thousand quid for a sub standard course and tries to imply that you are just too thick for the course or are being unreasonably awkward when you bring these matters up tends to suggest widespread problems.

    Would you go back to a restaurent where only one person at your table caught salmonella?

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: OU Consistency Issues

    You don't know how relieved I am to hear someone else say that.

    I thought it was just me ?!

  63. Daniel

    a few points

    1. In any educational institution, you are going to be dealing with people that teach rather than do. They are going to be a bit of a mixed bunch - some good, some not so.

    2. I did a Diploma a few years back with OU, over 2 years. I was in the electronics game, had gotten into some embedded stuff, and wanted to up my software skills. I found the course materials, the content, and the tutorship to be absolutely A1. I did well, and I still use and build on what I learned in those 2 years (I now have a pretty good job with a Fortune 500 company as a software engineer, and I enjoy what I do). There were probably a few dodgy bits, but then not all my code is perfect either ...

    You get out what you put in, people. The OU may screw up some stuff, but they do a hell of a lot of good stuff. A lot.

  64. Anonymous Coward


    Having completed a Masters I have come to a number of conclusions:

    1. 41% is 1% too much work.

    2. Give them back exactly what they gave you - further reading to develop an argument just confuses most lecturers who are already confused by the question they set.

    3. Never, on any account, disagree with what is written in a book (see point 2) as this is the font of all knowledge (and the publisher is where the lecture notes came from).

    4. Wikipedia is really the font of all knowledge but some lecturers think it is a secret.

    5. You have a life afterwards; they will still be unable to 'do'.

    6. A huge number of peer reviewed papers are the same paper writ in a different style.

    7. A number of academic authors only ever write one book and change the title at regular intervals once they think no-one is looking.

    At risk of coming over all filisofikal, wikipedia really is the font of all knowledge: either you know it is wrong and why, or you don't know in which case it is good enough lol

    Anon because.......well, you know already.....I'll fetch me Harry Potter suit

  65. Anonymous Coward

    Spoof papers

    I would like to see how easy it is to get these kind of papers through peer review, but I need a co-author. Is AManFromMars out there somewhere? Coward, A. & Mars, A.M.F. (2009) has a nice ring about it.

  66. Anonymous Coward

    RE: Fortune 500 University

    Just one problem with your corporate education programs. Boeing, Dow, etc. don't have football or basketball teams.

    I don't know if British universities even have Homecoming, but on this side of the pond it is a very big deal, not only generating a lot of revenue for the school and surrounding businesses, but also providing an outlet for aging alumni to relive past glory and blow off steam. I don't see a similar phenonmenon developing when they all still work at the company.

    What I suspect is going to happen is the companies will start giving aptitude/placement/achievement tests and/or refusing to hire graduates of certain programs. These will then lose their accreditation, and be forced to shape up.

  67. Brian Gooch

    Some things do not change

    My knowledge of the OU spans 22 years from 1978 to 2000 and I would like to comment in particular on points made by Dave Ashton, Edward Kenworthy and Luther Blissett.

    Most OU courses have too much in them, and this becomes disproportionately worse the shorter the course eg. 2 x 15 pointers cause more work than 1 x 30 pointer. The trick is to optimise the work to achieve the best results. A good tutor can help here.

    Correcting mistakes in the question has definitely caught us all out in the past but I have known a few instances where the marking scheme was amended after the event if sufficient students complained / appealed. Keep at it until the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.

    Yes, you can also be penalised for providing a critical analysis - it is not generally liked anywhere and it is not just confined to the OU; and yes, by all means make you own mind up, but you still have to answer the question (sometimes swallowing hard in the process).

    There is always a tendency for academics to jump on fashionable bandwagons when offering courses, whilst at the same time throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and a small number of courses do end up being badly written with the inevitable result of puzzlement and frustration. Given that, it is still down to each student to try and get the best out of it. That's life. Nobody should be put off having a go.

    Experience says that if, for any reason, a course is not going well, it is better to ditch it and go for a close alternative. Cut your losses so to speak - it's better than struggling against the tide and becoming ever more dispirited.

    If it is any consolation to Verity (and others) I can recall similar instances emanating from the same faculty in the past. Some things just do not change.

    Brian Gooch

  68. phat shantz

    Submitted for your approval


    8) No one in the real world cares about your grade. The guy who graduated dead last in medical school is still called "Doctor."

    This may be a corollary of #1, though.

  69. Paul Ireson


    Good to see Reg hacks doing a bit of legwork to try and maintain academic standards - but ironic that the article includes a glaringly obvious punctuation error. 2nd page, 4th para, use of "it's" where it should be the possessive "its"

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    standars innit

    There you go look, all we really crave is recognition. We do the thing, now tell me I am clever. My old Irish Grannie used to call me 'her wee preoffesserr' and all because I was a tad cleverer than my thicko. now millionaire, cousins. Well fuk my old boots, that recognition was worth all of the houses, boats (yots is way too hard to spel) and cars they have innit.

    Why was it we need the comfort of a bit of paper again? For the sake of my (your?) old granny?

    A CV is only as good as your last success, after a while (as pointed out by phat schantz) no-one cares - but come-on, whose going to admit to being anal enough to have a distinction on their Masters. Come on, you KNOW you're out there, come out of the bookrack......

    Jings. Do a Masters. Still think in terms of points make prizes.

    Jings. Be stupid enough to think that this is a qualification.

    Jings. Not to be clear enough to understand this merely points up your own and other's ignorance - which is the actual point.

    Doing a Masters, you are no longer on 'receive' and are not educated enough to 'send', but in limbo. Yep the good old OU FU. And? So what. One reads for a degree, that the ignorant sit in judgement is merely incidental; or is it? If you worry about passing, pass and then set about learning. If you are bright enough to pick up on the HRM aspects of managing dipwits above, you learn to manipulate them. A Masters is brilliant for that; most of the lecturers there will believe they have 'earned' the 'right' to 'teach' (rather than merely being 'there') and you can have a whale of a time negotiating extra time and making them feel guilty at not passing you. It's (note the apostophe, cos I is clever innit) like shitting ducks. Maybe that last bit was not exactly right. Pissing pups......farting, well you get the idea, let's just throw this on the wall and see what sticks.....

    What is the right answer was (and remains) utterly anassailed, aside from Moi (i is clever innit, my Grannie said so) and phat schantz.. Perhaps the clever finger-in-the-chest poking hacks at the Register (and of the respondents in this commentary) simply do not know this wee truth. No biggie. You can't know everything after all. But you can whine about everything. As long as you get the qualification.

    L'cturers are a longer time dead than you. They're dead already. They live in an afterlife called 'publication'. sad fucks. So let the baby have it's bottle, what's the big deal. Whatever you think is up to date when you thought you learnt it is yesterday's news. That goes treble for HE. So perhaps the POINT of HE is to train you in critical thinking rather than remaining the spoon-fed whiner that many have come across as in this commentary, and I have no doubt that is NOT how anyone regard themselves. (it's not fair, it's not fair I should be.......) If this be so, then, regardless of the self-serving excuse of the OU's tame hack, this piece of poor education has succeeded - lucky for the reciprient and the OU. Apparently. According to me. But what do I know. I died in the bookrack...... there was this orange monkey there.....

    41% is 1% lower than the answer to life, the universe and everything. And It Was In %, not real numbers, which is why those at the Hellish Collander will have got it wrong - there is history, the French think in centimeters so for them 6 cm is BIG (sad but that is why French women love us really.....oh......only me then.......). Or it could be the Brits thinking that missing by 6ins is no big deal. Either way we're all doomed.

    Paris cos she can tell the differ'nce between cm and ins. Where's that damned Harry Potter suit

  71. Brian Gooch

    When in a hole, stop digging

    I have now had a chance to look at my old records.

    In 1982 TM361 TMA 1 contained a question that was open to interpretation: more than one solution was feasible. The marking scheme portrayed only one solution. To err is human, but is how you handle the error that counts.

    Robin Wilson, the course chair, instructed that the TMA be remarked and the students' marks upgraded accordingly. No fuss, no bother, just do it, ... and it was done.

    I will set out an analogy concerning the present fiasco. From medieval times it has been accepted that when a person performs well in his/her trade and has the recognition of his peers, he is called a master. Thus, today, for example, a master thatcher is so called because his peers approve of his having reached the collective high standard of workmanship. Should his work fall below par and the said thatcher is expelled, then if he were to continue calling himself a 'master' he would be guilty of misrepresentation. Misrepresentation is fraud and is an offence which is both actionable and punishable.

    Now, an academic paper is vetted and approved by peers prior to publication in an institutional journal. If that paper is subsequently found to be below par and is withdrawn, then it no longer has peer recognition.

    Here it would seem that a TMA of M885 refers to such a discredited paper. TMA questions are written each year and are therefore current. That an error was made in not checking the validity of the referenced paper is bad enough - after all the students were really being asked to comment on somebody else's personal and unapproved views, but to compound the error is inexscusable. Remember, the mistake is one thing; how you handle it afterwards is much more important.

    As the precedence had already been set many years ago, the OU does not have any alternative but to remark the TMA, leaving aside the erroneous question, and marking it out of 85. The marks can then be proportionately upgraded to be out of 100.

    The present toing and froing does the OU no service whatsoever: it just leaves it in desparate need of the moral high ground, but that it cannot attain from the way it has handled the situation.

    When in a hole, stop digging. Just do the right thing.

    Brian Gooch.

  72. Richard Spencer

    OU arrogance

    Over the last four years of an OU Law Degree I met several assignment questions that contained serious faults. My experience is that the OU does NOT admit to error, but I also learned that these questions are set by committees which, being truly ultra democratic do not have a chair, so no one can rule anything in or out!

  73. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's a pity that the OU are getting a bad name here because of one problem with one course. I've done a few of their courses and they are generally excellent - much better than the ones I have looked at from more conventional universities. The tutors I have had have all worked in the sector that the course relates to, unlike other universities where you end up with an academic with no real experience.

    I doubt if there is a university in the country that doesn't have issues like this. I can thoroughly recommend the OU. Don't be put off because one persons rather public moans.

    Stob says:

    "...the Good Study Guide full of timekeeping and studying advice that is meant to encourage but actually would put off all but the most hardened swot, and a vast amount of miscellaneous paperwork containing many assorted further instructions and prohibitions.

    Especially homework. One might expect a week or two's grace at the start of a course since, not yet having learned anything, one has nothing to regurgitate. However, at M885 they subscribe to the principle, familiar from schooldays, that if the hockey pitch is waterlogged, you can always send the kids on a run."

    Sounds like Stob was just after an easy ride and found it too difficult to deal with. I've never considered the Good Study guide to be anything other than a helpful guide. If Stob thinks it's only for hardened swots then Stob needs to look for something easier.

  74. David Harris

    I was waiting to see...

    ... who would be the first to spot that.

    Isn't that the line Captain Mainwaring in "Dad's Army" always used when he was caught out making a mistake?


  75. Jane

    Fair and accurate reporting

    The Open University has given the Register a full explanation of the use of the article questioned by Verity Stob. To date, that explanation has not been fairly represented in the Register’s reporting. The first two chapters of this postgraduate course are meant to equip students with skills to critically examine sources of new information in this emerging field of knowledge, which is a standard expectation of any postgraduate education. The assignment in question tests students’ ability to critically evaluate content. The text is not part of the teaching material for the course, but a means to let students demonstrate mastery of the first two chapters of the course. It is ironic that this blog, and subsequent posts, largely illustrate the purpose of the course: the encouragement of robust and open debate.

  76. Julian Cox

    What a shame Darrell

    What a shame - Darrell Ince's books were prominent on my bookshelves in the early '90s when OOAD related methods/approaches were gaining credence in the Industry. Sounds like aspects of this course such as content and thought leadership haven't changed since then...

    (Hi-level content icon as after years of leading/training/coaching OOAD inc. whole lifecycle modelling & development in a variety of contexts, from Agile thru RUP to PRINCE2 that I'm obviously missing the importance of the ability to critically analyse the relevance of questions to higher education standards)

  77. dan
    Thumb Down

    OU Mistakes

    I've just sat an OU exam, and I identified a mistake in one part of the question which rendered another part impossible to answer. I contacted the OU (via email) and much to my surprise was told that they were fully aware of the error, and would be marking that question accordingly. Which is good.

    What's really BAD is that in an exam a question which IS impossible (as opposed to difficult) can really throw someone - not everyone is confident enough in that stressful environment to be certain that they (and not the experts that set the exam) are right.

  78. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Have you tried?

    Passing the gibberish paragraphs onto Amanfrommars?

  79. James Tyler
    Thumb Down

    Fellow OU Sufferer

    I have done several OU courses and I have found that the OU is intent on making life as hard as possible for it's students.

    I have been lucky and had a couple of good tutors who were told off for helping us to understand the course. ?!

    These tutors were also redbrick uni lectures who said that they were still giving us lass assistance than we would have received if we had attended a red brick uni.

    I can only surmise that the OU is desperately trying to make the courses extra hard in an effort to convice the red brick uni snobs that an OU degree is worth having.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like