Skip to Content
image description
Open College Network West Midlands Centres: Lifetime learning for all

Our History

A brief History: Playing our part in preserving the heritage of the Open College Network

We’ve been around a long time with a proud history and heritage of being part of the national network of Open Colleges, which celebrated their 35th year in 2017!  The current day Open College Network West Midlands was borne out of a rebranding process of Open College Network West Midlands Region in March 2015. 

We were originally incorporated as a new independent company in 2005 through the merger of three already longstanding organisations that had been recognising learning and accrediting courses since the 1980s.  These were:

   Open College Network Central England (OCNCE)

 

   Open College Network North West Midlands (OCNNWM)

 

   Open College Network West Midlands (OCNWM)

 

 

Open College Networks are one of the great educational successes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, yet their story is not that well known.

The concept of an open college was first established back in the 1970’s when Nelson & Colne College set up a partnership with Lancaster University. Called the Open College of the North West, they provided courses and certificates as an alternative route for adults wishing to progress to Higher Education.  In 1981, Manchester Open College Federation was created and went on to develop the system of accreditation which became the model for all other Open Colleges. The model Manchester adopted broke the mould by showing that there were credit-based alternatives to conventional school and exam based qualifications. 

Historically, the Open Colleges operated independently within their areas providing open access to learning and progression to university through a network of local organisations including Further Education Colleges and Higher Education Institutions. During the 1990s the Open Colleges began working together to develop a standard system of learning.  By 2000 there were 31 regionally based Open College Networks and in 2005 these merged into 11 larger Open College Networks [West Midlands Region being one]. These all still worked as separate and distinct organisations but in collaboration with the National Open College Network that had been set up in 1991 as a formally constituted membership organisation to provide advocacy and support the development and cooperation of the national network of Open Colleges.  

2007 was a landmark year that celebrated the 25th year of the Open College Networks and the 20th anniversary of the National Open College Network. The history of this development is summarised in the 2007 publication ‘Celebrating Achievement – 25 years of Open College Networks by John Sanders and Patricia Whaley. Please click here to download a copy.  Peter Wilson, who was seconded by NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education)  to the National Open College Network to facilitate the further development of the Open College Networks, has also referred to the growth of this social movement in his book “Big Idea, Small Steps - The making of credit based qualifications” (Published in 2010 by NIACE).

Key events during this period of growth for us included Access to Higher Education becoming officially accredited through the creation of Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) and key working partnerships being developed within Further Education, Higher Education, Local Education Authorities, employers and Trade Unions and the voluntary and community sector.

During 2013 Open College Network West Midlands Region, along with the majority of the other English Open Colleges (Open College Network Wales now Agored Cymru, had ceased to be members of the national network in 2008), decided not to renew their agreement with NOCN (which legally changed their company name to this from the National Open College Network also in 2013).  We no longer have any association with NOCN or their qualifications.

Today, as we face a constantly changing political landscape, we work independently as a national awarding organisation as the best way of serving the ever increasing diverse needs of learners in the new era of funding, localism and accountability.   

We are committed to entering the next stage of our history with confidence and with a strong sense of supporting industry, communities and both young and adult learners through the provision of high quality learning journeys that recognise achievement, and by creating clear pathways and opportunities for progression into work or further and higher education.


Make an enquiry

Make an enquiry

Form
     
Back to topwrapper">Back to top