Saturday, 20 April 2013

Thatcher, Saviour of the OU

A letter in today's Independent which argues that no one is ALL bad:

Insofar as comment has been passed on Margaret Thatcher’s time as Education Secretary in the Heath Government of 1970-74, this has usually related to her decisions to abandon free school milk and to shut down large numbers of grammar schools. What has been omitted is that Mrs Thatcher saved the Open University.
When Heath was elected Prime Minister in 1970, Ian Macleod, his Chancellor, was keen to rid the country of what he took to be Wilsonian financial albatrosses. Of all the decisions passed by his government, none was more associated with Harold Wilson than the Open University, and Macleod was keen to do away with it before it came into being, as were other Conservatives, who saw it as a further extension of state provision.
As a junior member of the Cabinet, ambitious and from the right, Thatcher might have been thought likely to support such a view. But after consultation, principally with the Open University’s first Vice-Chancellor, Walter Perry, she was persuaded that it was in fact an inexpensive and effective way of extending opportunity and creating new graduates. Much to Macleod’s chagrin, and with minimal support from her own department, she decided to move forward with the Open University.
John Campbell, in his much-acclaimed two-volume biography of Margaret Thatcher, argues that this was “her most remarkable feat” as Education Secretary, and that while Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee are usually credited with the conception of the OU “Margaret Thatcher deserves equal credit for single-handedly allowing it to be born when her senior colleagues were intent upon aborting it.”

Dr James Carleton Paget
Fellow and Tutor
Peterhouse, Cambridge

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