The British Open University has been a leader in nontraditional higher education for years and has influenced the development of distance learning programs in many countries including America. The origins of the open university movement generally and the British Open University specifically can be traced to the University of London. The University of London began conducting examinations and the offering of degrees to external students in 1836. This paved the way for the growth of private correspondence colleges that prepared students for the University of London’s examinations and enabled them to study independently for a degree without enrolling in the university. Described in an internal history document as the “world’s first successful distance teaching university” (British Open University, 2004, p. 1), its origin can be traced to a university of the air proposal that gained support in the early 1960s. By the 1970s the university was up and running, planning on 25,000 students per year. At the end of the 1970s, the British Open University had over 70,000 students, and currently has more than 180,000 students. The stated purpose of the university was to break the so-called link between excellence and exclusivity.
This work was previously published in the Encyclopedia of Distance Learning, Volume 3, edited by C. Howard, J. Boettcher, L. Justice, K. Schenk, P. Rogers, and G. Berg, pp. 1430-1432, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).