Studying with The Open University - your questions answered

Students studying

If you’re considering a career change after having a child or want to take your career to the next level, then studying for a qualification could be the way to do it. The Open University offers the flexibility to study around existing commitments and work at your own pace, making it a popular option for busy parents.

Below, Kimberlie Johnston and Amanda Trotman, two experts from The Open University (The OU), have answered Mumsnet users’ most burning questions on everything from funding options to tutor support. Kimberlie is an adviser in The OU's Student Support Centre and a single mother of a six-year-old boy, and Amanda is a student at The OU and widow with four children

Careers and employability

woman studying

What are the employability rates for OU degrees? Are they as well respected as other university degrees?

86% of our students say that studying with us has helped them achieve their career goals Kimberlie says: This is a common query that we receive here at The Open University (The OU). All our qualifications and the content meet the same academic requirements as those gained at a 'traditional' university. In fact, 86% of our students say that studying with us has helped them achieve their career goals. We also offer a careers and employability service to aid our students in their venture after The OU.

Do you think an employer would be more likely to employ a graduate straight from the school/university system or a mature student with more life skills?

Amanda says: I think that this would depend on the employer and the job. Some positions only require academic knowledge and then the company trains the employee in their own ways of doing things. Others might be looking for employees who have developed the desired skills while studying for a qualification. An OU degree would allow you to demonstrate that you’re dedicated and hard-working.

Funding and credit transfers

What funding options are available for women whose children are now older and who would like to capitalise on their experience of bringing up a family?

There are different options available depending upon your circumstances

Kimberlie says: There are a number of ways in which you might be able to pay for your Open University module fees. There are different options available depending upon your circumstances (highest qualification level, residency etc). Some of the more popular ways to pay are: tuition fee loans, The Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA) loans, enhanced learning credits (if you've been in the military), sponsorship or self-funding. Find out more information about the different payment options.

If I wanted to do an MBA at The OU, would my post-graduate diploma be taken into consideration if it was obtained from another establishment? How recently completed would it have to be?

Kimberlie says: If you’ve successfully completed some relevant postgraduate study elsewhere, you might be able to count it towards the MBA, therefore reducing the number of modules you need to study. However, it is important to know that there is a limit on the total amount of credits that can be transferred into this qualification, and your previous credits must have been achieved within the last seven years at the time of your application for credit transfer. Visit the application section on our website.

Flexible distance learning

older woman on laptop

Are the course standards the same as 'traditional' unis? Considering the courses are a lot cheaper, is the content still fairly similar?

Kimberlie says: All our qualifications are fully accredited and meet the same academic requirements as those offered at 'traditional' universities. Our research is highly regarded across the higher education sector and used by many other universities. The OU is recognised as a part-time course provider and the government caps what part-time students can be charged, hence the lower fee in comparison to the fee paid by full-time students. However, we believe our qualifications are outstanding value for a high-quality education. Find out more about studying with The Open University and distance learning.

How long does it take to get an OU degree?

Kimberlie says: Learning with The Open University is designed to be flexible. We want you to be able to fit your studies around existing commitments, such as family and work.

An undergraduate degree takes on average six years to complete on part-time basis. You have up to 16 years to complete your qualification allowing you time to take breaks should this be a requirement for you. We also have a range of course options including certificates and diplomas which can be completed in a shorter time frame.

Studying a degree on a full-time basis requires around 36 study hours per week. We do have students who choose to study at this pace and I would advise anyone considering this option to really think about your current commitments: work life, home life, caring responsibilities etc, to ensure this is the best study route for you. A tool you might find useful is our Time Planner.

If I wanted to take a break for eg maternity leave, is this permitted and how would this affect funding? If the course changes during this time would I be accommodated if I wanted to come back and complete it?

Amanda says: Yes, you are able to manage your studies at a pace that suits you. Due to our nature of learning, this allows more flexibility. Typically, the majority of our bachelor’s degrees have a time limit of 16 years to complete, although this number is subject to the type of qualification you wish to study eg certificate/diploma of Higher Education. How this will affect your funding will depend on the type of funding you choose to use.

We do understand that students will need to take a break from their studies for a number of reasons therefore if there are any changes to the curriculum or framework, you will be notified of this and given the options available to you to complete your qualification. See more information on how to best manage your time.

What advice can you give for those juggling parenting with studying?

It meant that I could say to the kids that I definitely won’t be studying on Tuesday so we can do the things you want to do then Amanda says: Have a planner – mine was simply a Post-it note on my desk. It meant that I could say to the kids that I definitely won’t be studying on Tuesday so we can do the things you want to do then; and it also meant that, when I wasn’t studying, I wasn’t fretting and thinking, “Oh dear, I should be studying right now.”

Support and advice

Woman reading

Is there much or any actual physical face-to-face contact time with other students, tutors, lecturers, or is it 100% online and distance learning?

There are online forums where you can engage with other students Kimberlie says: While all our courses are conducted by way of distance learning, you can still interact and connect with tutors and other students in various ways. There are online forums where you can engage with other students or activities where you may be required to interact with others on a project. There are also tutorials – both online and face-to-face – study days/residential schools and live interactive events. I would imagine there have been many friendships formed through study at The Open University. Find out more on student interaction.

How much support is there for people who haven't been in formal education for a long time?

Amanda says: If you start with level 1 courses, then you’ll be fine. These felt like they were aimed at a fairly basic level of previous education, everything was very well explained.

The student home page is also very helpful in that respect, it’s like your own personal planner and information centre all in one. You have a target of what you should be studying that week and links to outside resources, the forums and your tutor. I hadn’t done any education since my GCSEs and a year-long access course when I began my degree, 23 years after leaving school. I would say, that if you struggle with fundamental maths or English, then get some advice from The OU before you sign up.

I'd be interested in knowing about the level and quality time of tutor support. Are you assigned one tutor, and is it easy to get in touch?

Amanda says: You are assigned a tutor for each module that you study, although it is important to know that it is likely your tutor will be different each academic year. Once you become registered onto a module, you will be told the name of your tutor and provided with an email address and telephone number for them. Tutors usually aim to respond to email queries within two working days. However, at the start of your module, your tutor is likely to get in contact with you to discuss the upcoming module and what is to be expected. More information on tutor support is available.