There is something ineffably British about the Open University. I have just looked it up.
It began 50 years ago, with its charter being issued on April 23, 1969. By a wonderful synchronicity, this is St George’s Day, and he is the patron saint of England.
The statistics are most impressive: More than 100,000 students, both undergraduate and postgraduate.
This is more than double some of the biggest universities in the UK, with, for example, my alma mater, Liverpool, having some 27,000 on the books.
More than two million people have achieved their goals of graduation in the last 50 years.
Three quarters of the students manage to juggle their studies whilst working and about a fifth have a disability.
Learning takes place at a distance, with summer schools encouraging discussion and co-operation and the meeting of like-minded people.
Not only that, but it does this with two very different approaches from most universities.
There are no entry qualifications and you can learn from home.
Maybe you are a graduate of the Open University? Some 7,000 students study from outside the UK and it is possible due to the increasingly easy connectivity. Unlike many universities, the Open University is open to all.
Just think about this for a moment.
There are no entry tests. If someone decides that they would like to study, then they can.
If it proves to be too difficult, then stop. But you are encouraged to try. That’s important, I think.
Returning to St George and things English for a moment, there are some qualities which the English reputedly possess. Fair play, a droll sense of humour, and understated determination are three of the more positive ones.
On the other side of the coin are the less admirable traits that the English are said to demonstrate, such as loutish behaviour, especially when linked to binge-drinking and an ignorance or intolerance of other cultures.
Of course, the one thing that England has been famous for is its educational system.
It is no surprise that franchises of some of the best-known English schools appear all around the world, like little outposts of Englishness.
The values enshrined in these institutions are desired by many.
There is something very appealing about the advantages of an English education, not least the capacity to speak English, of course.
But the Open University has managed, for 50 years, to pioneer the idea of distance learning with some wonderful programmes and some not so wonderful.
I have memories of BBC2 showing black and white programmes which were commonly presented by earnest, bearded gentlemen or ladies dressed in floral frocks, and were stultifyingly tedious.
If you couldn’t sleep and it was the middle of the night, just put on the telly and watch a bit of an OU programme on BBC2.
Within minutes, you would be snoring!
For all that, though, and it is a caricature, the distance learning is simply marvellous and has been copied by dozens of ‘wannabees’ around the world.
The good old OU has come of age. Fifty years old. Happy birthday.
l Mike Gaunt is a former assistant headmaster at St Christopher’s School, Bahrain – email@example.com