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Spotlight on OU Research that shaped the last 50 years

As The Open University (OU) celebrates 50 years of research on Charter Day (23 April 2019), we remember all of our colleagues past and present who have made contributions to research at the OU as well as the many projects which have had major impacts on the world around us. Here are some of them:


Derek Pugh

Derek Pugh

Professor Derek Pugh is a British psychologist and business theorist known for his work in the field of organisational development.

In 1983, he became OU Professor of Systems and Head of Systems Discipline until 1988 and was Emeritus Professor of International Management since 2000.

The OU Business School initiated the Professor Derek Pugh Prize in his honour in 1995, an annual award for the best student on Professional Certificate in Management course.

Andrew Thomson

Andrew Thomson

Professor Andrew Thomson was a pioneer in British management education, whose aim was to open up educational opportunities to a wide range of junior and middle managers. In 1988, he became the first Dean of the School of Management at the OU.

Professor Thomson’s key achievement to OU research was that which informed the launch of the OU, now triple-accredited MBA.

His contribution was recognised in 1993, when he was awarded the OBE for services to education.

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall

One of the intellectual giants of the first 50 years of the OU was Professor Stuart Hall.

Professor Hall was a leading cultural theorist and sociologist who joined the OU in 1979 and was Head of the Sociology Department for a decade before retiring as Emeritus Professor in 1997.

Martin Bean, former Vice-Chancellor of the OU said in Professor Hall’s obituary in 2014: “He was a committed and influential public intellectual of the new left, who embodied the spirit of what the OU has always stood for; openness, accessibility, a champion for social justice and of the power of education to bring positive change in peoples’ lives.”

Doreen Massey

Doreen Massey

Professor Doreen Massey was a British social scientist and geographer.

She became Professor of Geography at the OU in 1982. Her understanding of social space as something produced within society rather than something that existed outside of it is one that transformed the discipline of Geography. 

She also devoted much of her work to studying the spatial aspects of women's lives, places and work. A pioneer of feminist geography, she has influenced a whole generation through her work.


Colin Pillinger

First ever landing on a comet

The arrival of Professor Colin Pillinger and his planetary science research group from Cambridge in 1983 heralded the beginning of planetary sciences at the OU and later involvement in many space missions.

Alongside many other space missions, Professor Pillinger, led the Mars Express Beagle 2 in 2003. This project was a forerunner to the OU's involvement in the ROSETTA mission, both involving an orbiter and a lander, but also because both approaches lend themselves to real world applications such as 'sniffing' to detect disease, improve air quality, and for flavour and fragrance in perfumes.

In 2014, OU Space Science academics led the development of the Ptolemy instrument, part of the ROSETTA space mission, which landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and will advance our understanding of the environment around a comet.

Old computer

Changes in computing

In 1981, we released our first mass distribution of disk-based software, aimed at teacher education necessitated by the growing adoption of ‘microcomputers’ as they were then called.

Today, computing and communications technologies are embedded into many aspects of daily life, from education and entertainment to health and wellbeing. Research in the OU’s School of Computing and Communications, and Knowledge Media Institute, pioneers the use of technology to enhance human experience, addressing real problems that matter to a society where computing is increasingly ubiquitous. Examples are:

Carer feeding lady in wheelchair

50 years of OU research in health and social care

Research in the School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care has made a significant contribution to research and practice over our last 50 years.

From depression to e-therapies

The Health Studies Research Group, led by Professor Cathy Lloyd and Dr Mathijs Lucassen, includes ground-breaking work both nationally and globally in mental and physical health which informs curriculum and current practice. The Group works closely with researchers in several sub-Saharan Africa countries, tackling the problem of co-morbid diabetes and depression, and in New Zealand where it has been developing e-therapies for young people with poor mental health, and has just embarked on a mental health project in Guyana.

Understanding ageing as a social phenomenon

The Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies (CABS), established by Professor Sheila Peace and colleagues, continues to thrive under the guiding hand of Dr Aravinda Guntupalli, and provides opportunities for interdisciplinary research both within and outside the OU as it stretches its understanding of ageing as a social phenomenon.

Promoting an inclusive approach

The pioneering Social History of Learning Disabilities (SHLD) group, led by Dr Liz Tilley, has been instrumental in advocating the vital contribution that people with learning disabilities make in order to promote an inclusive approach and the development of person-centred services. The SHLD group continues to inspire admiration, trust and respect both nationally and internationally.

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