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Planning Retirement Online

Out of the box - The Open University

                         December 2009

This is our regular OUT OF THE BOX feature where we give suggestions on different things to try.     

If you have tried something unusual or different, tell us all about it - and send in a photograph as well if you can – so that we can share your experiences with others.


This month……


The Open UniversityRetirement is the perfect time to try something new in your life. Learning is a really rewarding experience. It helps keep our brains active, makes us think more deeply, it widens our perspective and of course it can help with work or life enjoyment.

Today everyone can study, whatever their age, and the range of courses available is astonishing.

One of the best known facilities for adult learning is the Open University which was the world's first successful distance teaching university. It has the widest possible range of courses covering subjects such as the classical world, philosophy of the mind, English, beginners French or Welsh, law, communication skills, you and your money, astronomy, the earth in crisis, family meanings, understanding cities, even governing Europe – there really is something for everyone.

But possibly the best thing about Open University is that the courses are flexible and open to all. For most courses you don’t need any previous qualifications; there is a wide range of part-time courses, there is a variety of start dates and you can study from home, at work or even on the train, whenever it suits you.

If necessary you can vary the pace you study according to your circumstances, and if something happens that makes study difficult, you can take a break and then continue later.

The actual word university can put some people off, but at the Open University you don’t have to study at undergraduate level; there are other courses if you simply want to develop your interest in a subject; or perhaps gain a certificate or a diploma rather than a degree.

To assist with deciding what to study, the Open University has set up a special Course Tasters Website, available through its website, which gives extracts of course materials, study calendars, tests, and tutor marked assignment questions.

One area which concerns many people is the cost, and there is a financial aspect when you enroll with the Open University. However, the amount you pay varies from course to course, and the good thing is that the fees are very inclusive – everything from materials, tuition, assessment and even residential schools to support your open learning are all covered. There may be additional small charges for books but the extra costs really are minimal.

The university offers flexible payment so that any costs can be spread, and there is a great deal of financial support available to help cover the costs. Both the Open University and the UK government helps fund support for students – last year around 38,000 students received some kind of financial support for their Open University studies.

Many people think the Open University is all about academic courses, but their wide range of part time computer courses and qualifications are hugely popular.

One thing to bear in mind is that the Open University is based on distant learning, so most of your contact is usually over the phone or by email. There can be limited discussion sometimes with an advisor, and the university does hold local community events every so often so that students can attend and ask questions face to face. There are a number of additional platforms in place to ensure students have access to the advice and help they need and the university also has a dedicated learner support team. Some courses include short residential schools as part of the course.

More information about the Open University is available on


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