50th anniversary celebrations: Looking back ... a letter from our first President

As May marks the first of our two birthdays, we will be taking a look back at significant events across the first five decades of our history, starting with a letter from our first President.

50th anniversaryhistoryMillicent Marsland
Black and white image of Millicent Marsland our first President, alongside our 50th anniversary icon

As May marks the first of our two birthdays, we will be taking a look back at significant events across the first five decades of our history, starting with the 1970s. We thought there was no better way to begin this series, than by sharing this rousing letter to all OU students from our very first President, Millie Marsland.


Dear Student,

So now we have a Students Association, and with it the inevitable organisational paraphernalia – councils and committees and presidents and still more paper. Perhaps some of you think we’re trying to set up in competition with the bureaucracy of the University itself.

But the paraphernalia is inevitable, because without such a structure the Association would be a name only. We need councils and committees and officers to get things done, to make reality of the ideals that prompted the founding of the Association, and to protect its democracy.

But that doesn’t mean that the Association is only for the ‘joiners’, the people who like to get involved. There are plenty of Open University students who react against involvement - that's why the Open University’s do-it-yourself degree system suits them. So what can the Students Association offer them? Why should they dig into their pockets for the membership subscription?

Well, that's what this handbook is about. It's an honest attempt to set down what has been achieved so far, what is lined up for the immediate future, and what our potential achievement is if we get full backing from you, the students.

I'm asking you to take a lot on trust, I realise that. I can't point proudly to a long record of achievements, because we haven't been in existence a long time. But what I can say - with pride - is that in the short time we have been around, we haven't wasted any time. Our achievements are testament to that.

And I can ask you to have faith in our intentions. We’ve not been elected to grind personal axes: we're here to represent you all. And with the student body as large and diverse as ours, we've probably got a more difficult job than any other students’ organisation in the country.

It is indeed because the students of The Open University are so widespread, because they are off-campus part-time students, because they have homes and families and jobs to think about as well as their university work, that they need the representation of a Students Association.

They don't automatically get the same rights and privileges as full-time students. They have to work harder at a corporate feeling. They have to accommodate the social life that may spring up spontaneously from Study Centre meetings into an already overcrowded schedule. And the fringe benefits - the cheap holidays together, the concessions from retailers etc - are not accorded as a right to a fragmented group. This is where the Association comes in. At a local level it is the sort of organisation that furthers and promotes the interests of students at the grassroots. It is a unifying influence for social and academic needs which existed, albeit, long before OUSA was formally established but which are now being recognised.

At a national level it is a different thing altogether. The socialising may continue - trips to Florence are only the beginning. But the guts of the Association is its role as a pressure group, a united front, an organised body prepared to fight for the students in a way that the officials of the University itself cannot.

It is the students’ champion in the grants fight. It gives an official heading to the notepaper with which we bombard recalcitrant educational authorities. It gets us on the terraces of Westminster to meet the people who matter.

It can ask for - and get - concessions for members. It can demand - and get - a hearing within the walls of Walton Hall whenever one individual or whole groups feel that they have a genuine grievance. It is the voice of you, the students. And it is a voice that is already loud enough to be heard.

Millie Marsland, President