Memorandum submitted by The Open University
1. The Open University has been teaching
students resident in prisons since 1971. The University's current
scheme for the education of offenders began in 1996 and operates
in the following jurisdictions:
In England and Wales through a partnership
with the Social Inclusion and Offenders Unit (SIOU) of the Department
for Education and Skills. The University had previously engaged
with PLSU and OLSU, the predecessors to SIOU.
In Scotland through a partnership
with the Directorate of Partnerships and Commissioning, Scottish
In Northern Ireland through a partnership
with the Inmate Activities branch of the Northern Ireland Prison
In the Republic of Ireland through
a partnership with the Department of Justice.
2. The University views this work as a key
part of its mission to widen participation in higher education
especially by those groups who are traditionally excluded from
educational opportunities. The Prison Service partners see the
opportunity for Open University study as a vital part of resettlement
and a route to reducing re-offending through the development of
skills for employment.
3. Any sentenced prisoner in any establishment
is entitled to apply to study with the Open University. Offenders
apply through the Prison Education Department. Any restrictions
are those enforced by the prison education staff, the governors
and the relevant government departments.
4. An important feature of Open University
study is that no formal qualifications are required for entry
as an undergraduate to the University. Offenders are encouraged
to commence their study with an Openings course. These are short
courses designed to allow students to sample different areas of
study and choose the appropriate subject area for future study.
These courses also allow students to ascertain their ability to
study through supported distance learning within the prison environment.
Once accepted on the course, the main criterion for all learners
studying with the University is evidence of the ability to progress,
based on work submitted. Students may study further Openings courses
or progress through the undergraduate programme to achieve a Certificate,
Diploma or Undergraduate Degree. Academic standards are strictly
observed to ensure the credibility and the parity of the final
qualification. This form of open learning is particularly valued
by those who may have missed out on earlier educational opportunities,
and who often, through the Open University, only discover their
abilities later in life.
5. Prison students on Openings courses and
in their first year of undergraduate study are funded by SIOU.
On subsequent courses the students are eligible to apply for financial
support. In 2005-06, the financial support spend on UK students
in the prison education system was £223k. Financial support
monies are provided from the University's own resources.
6. Between 1 August 2005 and 31 July 2006
the total number of course registrations from students in prisons
was 1,555. The prisoner student headcount was 1,203. The break
down of course registrations by country was as follows:
England and Wales 1,367
Republic of Ireland 109
Table 1 shows course registrations by Faculty/type
COURSE REGISTRATIONS BY FACULTY, 2005-06
|Other Short Courses||3
|Business School and Law Courses||3
|Health and Social Care||3.5
|Education and Languages||5
7. Between 1st August 2001 and 31st July 2006, prisoners
in England and Wales have successfully achieved a total of 420
qualifications as summarised in Table 2.
QUALIFICATIONS BY PRISONER STUDENTS, 2001-02 TO 2005-06
|Undergraduate Certificates||0.5 FTE
|Undergraduate Diplomas||1 FTE
|Non-Honours Degrees||3 FTE
|Honours Degrees||3 FTE||11
|Taught Masters Degrees||2 FTE
8. 26.5% of offenders studied an Openings Course in 2005-06.
Most Education Departments require students to take at least one
Openings course to demonstrate their suitability for study at
9. Only 3% of students studied Short Courses. These are
offered in Humanities and Science and are generally delivered
without face-to-face tuition. Much of the support is online or
through computer conferencing and few prisons can offer unlimited
access to these services for offenders.
10. A number of courses in Health and Social Care are
not available to prisoners because of the content or the need
to have practical experience for example working with children
or young people. In some cases offenders are prevented from studying
such courses by the prison authorities as a direct result of their
offence. This explains the relatively low number of students who
studied in this subject area.
11. The comparatively low percentage of students who
studied Science or Technology courses is related to the content
of the courses and the media through which they are taught. Many
courses have an integral residential component or an "Alternative
Learning Experience" which is delivered online for students
unable to attend the residential component. Access to these courses
is becoming increasingly difficult for prison students.
12. 29% of Open University students studied in the Social
Science Faculty. Few courses have a compulsory online element.
Most are delivered with face-to-face tuition and primarily through
printed texts. Where computer access is required this does not
usually necessitate the use of the Internet or computer conferencing.
13. Although 11.5% of students studied in the Faculty
of Maths and Computing, they were generally unable to study those
courses which are directly related to the Internet and its use
14. A key skill for employability is Information and
Communication Technology. ICT has been introduced into many Open
University courses to ensure that graduates of the University
have the necessary skills when looking for employment opportunities.
The University is also developing plans to track student progress
through their interaction with courses online, to ensure that
timely and appropriate support is provided by tutors, and thus
ICT is assuming a strategic role in the OU's student support system.
Facilities in the Prison Estate are such that students are not
always able to access even limited ICT training opportunities
and are therefore at a disadvantage when returning to the job
market. Whilst it is appreciated that security is paramount in
prisons, the development of offender employability is also vital.
We strongly recommend that the Prison Service make the provision
of a secure Education Intranet a priority to facilitate offender
learning, and we would be pleased to work with the Prison Service
in support of this development.
15. Offenders are frequently moved between establishments.
This can be detrimental to their education as not all prisons
afford students the same facilities or opportunities for education.
It has also been our experience that course materials tend to
take some time to follow the student to the receiving establishment.
We recommend that the Prison Service review Education facilities
across the estate to ensure greater consistency for those engaging
with education in preparation for release and employment.
16. Open University courses are delivered primarily through
supported distance learning. Face-to-face support is offered on
most courses and this is funded by SIOU. All Open University staff
who are visiting prisons have to be security cleared. The processes
for this are not consistent and the rigour with which this is
done by some establishments can be prohibitive and cause undue
delays in staff being allowed to engage with the prisoners. We
recommend that tutors who will visit infrequently are not subject
to the same rigorous security vetting procedures as full time
prison staff as these tutors are rarely unsupervised on their
17. Offenders may be released mid-course and in such
circumstances it is beneficial for the University to have contact
with the probation services. Currently relationships are nurtured
at an individual and local level and the University is aware of
the need for a more systematic institutional relationship with
the service to ensure that students are supported on release.
Closer communications between the Education staff in prisons and
probation services is to be encouraged.
18. The availability of Open University study for offenders
is an excellent means of developing these individuals in preparation
for release. However, it can be a source of ill feeling for the
staff who work in prisons for whom similar opportunities may not
be available. The Prison Service should explore with the University
how prison officers and other staff could be supported to study
with the OU. We believe that this would benefit both offenders
and officers, and remove a potential source of conflict.