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What An Open University Is, And Why You Should Consider It

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Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Alexandra Markin

When I was researching online degree programs at the beginning of my higher education journey, I came across the term “open university” and wondered what it meant.

Maybe you’ve heard the term as well, but don’t know the details. So what does it mean exactly?

In this Q&A style post, I’ll answer all the questions you may have about what an open university is and why you should consider attending one to get your degree.

If you want to go back to school as a mature student for a career change, promotion opportunity or to further your knowledge for your own business, open university is the perfect choice.

I hold both a certificate and diploma in Management Studies from Thompson Rivers University – a well-recognized, accredited open university. It was one of the best decisions I made when going back to school as an adult learner.

What Is Open University?

An open university is an institution that offers higher education credentials with very low or no entry requirements.

Their aim is to offer equal education opportunity to everyone by removing the high barrier admission requirements most traditional universities require.

Perhaps the most well-know open university in the world is The Open University (often just called the OU), located in the city of Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. You may have heard of OU, but it’s not to be confused with what an open university actually is.

The phrase “Open University” sometimes forms part of the name of many of these institutions paired with the country it’s located in. For example, The Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL).

Just like traditional universities, types of credentials offered by open universities can include certificates, diplomas, undergraduate degrees and even master’s and doctorate degrees.

How Does An Open University Work?

Admission is open to anyone who wants to pursue higher education, no matter what their age or previous educational experience is. This is often referred to as open admission.

The course work at an open university is done by distance learning (also called online learning). There are no in-person classes to attend – all the learning activities are completed online and any required physical textbooks or materials are shipped to your home address.

What Are The Benefits Of Open University?

There are several benefits of attending open university which makes it an excellent choice for perspective students around the world.

One of the main benefits is that you don’t need previous high grades to be accepted. If your marks weren’t the best in high school or you’re going back to school as an adult after a long hiatus from studying, an open university is the perfect choice.

Other advantages include the wide range of credential choices, ability to learn from anywhere at anytime, and a generous timeframe to finish your program.

For a more detailed list of benefits, read the post advantages of open university.

Is Open University Accredited?

Many open universities are accredited, but it’s up to you to confirm this before enrolling in a program or course.

An accredited university means the institution is recognized by an approved, independent third party. There can be many different approved accrediting bodies throughout a country. For example, a university in British Columbia, Canada may have a different accrediting body than a university in Alberta, Canada.

But in summary yes, many open universities are accredited.

Is An Open University Degree A Real Degree?

When I first decided to get my degree online, I was really skeptical of online degree programs and especially open universities. I wasn’t sure if these were “real” degrees. If I was going to do this, I wanted it to matter.

As I furthered my research, I learned that accredited open university degrees are real degrees. They aren’t just for third world countries, high school dropouts or people who can’t afford to attend a traditional university.

Make sure the open university you’re planning to attend is accredited.

The only time an open university degree is NOT a real degree is if you attend a school that isn’t accredited.

What Is The Difference Between Open University And Regular University?

The key difference between an open university and a regular university is the admission process.

Open universities offers the option of higher education to anyone as they have low or no entry requirements.

Regular (or traditional) universities often have lofty entry requirements, such as a high GPA or require specific courses or exams to grant admission.

Although open universities and regular universities can both offer online learning, the difference is the admission process.

Are Online Learning And Open Learning The Same Thing?

Although online learning and open learning have some similarities, they are not the same thing.

All open universities are online but not all online universities are open.

– Online Student Life

These two terms confused me when I was first researching getting a degree online, but the difference is actually very simple.

Online learning (also called distance learning) means the course learning outcomes and assessments are completed online, so you don’t attend in-person classes.

Open learning refers only to the admission process, meaning post-secondary education is accessible to anyone who wishes to pursue higher education, either by taking individual courses or enrolling in a program with the intent of getting a degree or other credential. Open learning has low or no barriers to entry.

Is Open University Cheaper Than Traditional University?

A lot of information you’ll find online will tell you that open university is cheaper than getting a traditional university degree.

While the tuition and additional fees of both options may around the same price, open university is touted as “cheaper” because you open university is done online. You don’t have the added costs of commuting to class a few times a week or staying in residence with room and board and food costs.

However, tuition costs are NOT always cheaper. Do your research carefully.

Open University Fees

In addition to tuition cost per credit, there are a lot of additional fees charged for attending open university. Here are some fees to watch out for:

  • Admission fees just to apply to the university itself
  • Program application fees for each program you apply to
  • Administration fees that are charged with every course you take
  • Program plan design fees
  • Out of province/state fees if you choose an open degree program in a different jurisdiction than your home address
  • Technology fees that go towards supporting the online aspect of learning online
  • Exam proctoring fees (such as ProctorU for invigilated online exams)
  • Shipping & handling fees for material delivery
  • Graduation fees (some universities make you pay a fee to officially graduate, even if you’re not attending an in-person ceremony!)

When doing your research on open university fees, remember that more expensive does not always mean better.

Before you enroll in an online degree program at any university (open or traditional), be sure to read the in-depth guide on How To Choose The Best Online Degree Program.

Open Universities Around The World

Open universities exist around the world. Each institution will be a bit different, so look into each option carefully.

Open Universities in Canada

There are two main open universities in Canada:

  1. Thompson Rivers University Open Learning (known by their abbreviation TRUOL) – they offer a large open learning division in addition to their traditional on-campus university programs.
  2. Athabasca University (know by their abbreviation AU) – is Canada’s open university.

Both of these institutions are fully accredited.

Is There An Age Limit For Open University?

There is no age limit for most open universities. Many only require you to be of a minimum age (such as 216 years old).

With open universities, you can easily go back to school as an adult student with low or no entry requirements.

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