This is my first post as Principal here at the Open College of the Arts and I’m very pleased to be able to share some exciting news. Last week we launched a campaign to celebrate 30 years of creativity through distance learning with OCA. OCA became part of the University for the Creative Arts, the UK’s number one specialist university for the creative arts, in 2016 and the University for the Creative Arts is coincidentally celebrating it’s 150 anniversary this year.
To launch the 30th anniversary campaign, I invited OCA students and tutors to join me and the Vice Chancellor of UCA at the gallery@oxo on London’s South Bank. As part of the 30th anniversary celebrations Showcase, a week-long exhibition of student and alumni work, will open at the gallery on 24 October.
I’m extremely excited to be involved in celebrating 30 years of opening access to arts education. Many students choose OCA because they want to fit in their studies with work, travel and family commitments. For others, online and distance learning enables them to study around a disability or caring responsibilities. Some are serving custodial sentences. Nearly a fifth of students define themselves as having a physical, mental or learning disability. This compares with 7% of students studying full or part-time for a first degree in mainstream universities who are receiving Disabled Students Allowance. I want to use the 30th anniversary campaign to create a legacy to support those most disadvantaged students by establishing a bursary. The bursary will be funded from an auction of 30 individual artists’ book editions of a collection of 30 essays on creativity being commissioned as part of the campaign.
I am saddened to see headlines in the newspapers that our attempts to widen access to higher education have stalled. According to HESA analysis the proportion of students from disadvantaged areas has only risen by 0.1 percent and has in fact fallen by 17% since 2011-12 if the drop in part-time students was taken into account since part-time learners are far more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds. It is up to all of us to work together to improve access to higher education and to increase opportunities for study.
During our anniversary year we will be making more courses freely available to the public and we will be increasing our foundations courses providing people with greater opportunities to bridge the gap to HE study and to build good study habits. Our new Re-approaching Photography course is a great example of that. This year we will also be increasing the subjects available to study at OCA with a new foundation in Interior Design being released this summer. Those of you who would like to study for a degree in Interior Design will be able to sign up for the first presentation of this new degree later in 2018.
I have been really touched by the warmth of my welcome to OCA and to the strength of feeling that all the tutors and staff have about giving our students the best possible support. I welcome your thoughts on what more we can do to improve the opportunities for disadvantaged students and how we can best use the bursary to do that.
Please also keep in touch with us through social media by following the #weareoca30 hashtag and if you can make it, please come along to the events during 2018 to help us celebrate the achievements of our students and teaching staff as we look forward to the next 30 years.