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The Open University

A conversation with The Open University and how they have grown and developed with the matrix Standard over the years. “We have found the matrix Standard works for us and it wraps around our service in a very informative and supportive way.”

The start of the matrix Standard journey The Open University was founded to make education accessible to all, and since its launch in 1969 more than 2.2 million people worldwide have achieved their learning goals by studying with them. With 175,718 students currently enrolled The Open University is one of the largest universities in Europe and in 2019 it celebrated 50 years of successful distance teaching and research.

In the early 2000s The Open University were approached regarding a new quality standard for delivering high quality Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG). The new standard was the matrix Standard. An initial exploration of the accreditation was undertaken by the Quality & Development Team in Student Support, to decide whether being externally recognised for the quality of their information, advice and guidance would be a good investment of both time and resource. After completing the exploratory piece, the team agreed it was extremely worthwhile to be externally accredited and put forward an initial proposal to the Senior Executive Team for Student Services. As part of Student Services, the team received approval and the full endorsement of the Senior Executive Team to move forward with the accreditation assessment.

A programme of activity was then developed for the whole of the organisations’ IAG services to ensure the matrix Standard was embedded within the IAG processes. In 2003 the first assessment for accreditation took place, and they successfully achieved the matrix Standard for all their core centrally based student support services. In the years following each IAG Service area was then assessed with the entire IAG Service achieving accreditation in 2006 and by 2008, Student Services achieved unit wide accreditation for all the IAG service provision. Accreditations covers the IAG Service as The Open University December 2021 A conversation with The Open University and how they have grown and developed with the matrix Standard over the years. “We have found the matrix Standard works for us and it wraps around our service in a very informative and supportive way.” The start of the matrix Standard journey delivered from Academic Services (previously Student Services) and the Student Recruitment & Support Teams in The Open University in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales1. The matrix Standard assessment and accreditation programme has been led by Roberta Nathan with colleagues from the Quality Development Team since the beginning (now the Quality, Inclusion and Safeguarding Team).

A range of stakeholder and practitioner groups have played a crucial role in supporting and contributing to the matrix Standard accreditation activity since the University was first approached. The endorsement of the Senior Executive (the unit Leadership Team) and Directorate sponsorship has been essential in the success and positive experience of the matrix Standard internally. The Team have provided some extremely valuable first-hand insights into how the matrix Standard can become so embedded into an organisation’s culture it underpins everything they do: it’s “not a tick box exercise… it is a fully integrated approach”.

Embedding the matrix Standard into all IAG service areas

The Open University’s mission is to be ‘open to people, places, methods, and ideas’ with a vision to reach more students with life-changing learning that meets their needs and enriches society. Directorate and key stakeholder commitment meant that across the IAG Service the role, purpose and language of the matrix Standard is valued in terms of what it is, how it contributes to their work, improves the services, provides continuity, and works alongside their mission. “What we really worked hard at was embedding both the senior team and practitioner level engagement ensuring that the quality standard was part of what we did on an everyday basis, so that it was never seen as an additional extra”.

Having the Executive board involved so early has meant that the matrix Standard could be integrated into each area of IAG Service and into each level over time: “It is something that has to be done at all levels over a long period of time and the advantages are really paying off now, I think the strength of the matrix Standard is to embed it so firmly in what you do, that is becomes part of the fabric of the service, and that’s essentially how we approach it” The matrix Standard has brought cultural and structural value to The Open University IAG Service. It seamlessly supports continuous improvement of their IAG services and an overall continuous improvement approach and mindset.

By focussing on measures of success, service standards and outcomes for students, it has given everyone involved in the service a strong sense of purpose in their work with a clear focus on student success. 1 A small centrally based Vocational Qualifications Centre is also accredited.

How the matrix Standard framework was a welcomed continuum

Throughout times of change within The Open University, the Academic Services team believed strongly that the matrix Standard provided a framework to enable change to be managed more effectively which was supported by colleagues across the service who said “you need formal systems in place, you need the data, you need the information… if you run a quality system that is robust enough to cope with the change, that becomes a strength.” Not surprisingly because of the demands of external and internal changes and the focus on supporting core services to students, the Academic Services team were often asked whether there was a continuing robust case for investing in matrix accreditation, of course, the team’s answer was “yes”, as the matrix Standard accreditation would show a strong continuum for internal and external stakeholders.

Also, at this point Academic Services had been on a 10 year plus journey with the matrix Standard, and they wanted that commitment to continue. It was important to demonstrate at each accreditation that the IAG Service remained robust and that despite the challenges faced by the unit and the wider University, successful assessment and ongoing achievement of the matrix Standard was a clear strength of the IAG Service overall. “There is a lot of respect for a service that is externally verified” and this is something that the Academic Services team carry with them into each accreditation assessment and every self-assessment.

They were very pleased when the 12month and 24month continuous improvement reviews which support self-assessments were introduced, because these regular Assessor led assessments have helped to focus on areas where they feel they could strengthen, “which has fed very well in the training and development work” they do. These regular assessment activities help to keep the matrix Standard relevant and a constant feature of service quality assurance.

Moving forward with the matrix Standard

The Open University are always working to increase student success and improve the student experience. Colleagues from Academic Services work with a wide range of university groups to ensure that the IAG Services and the matrix Standard accreditation are well represented in University internal and external quality assurance processes and assessment activities, to develop best practice and support enhancement. The Open University Recruitment and Support Teams in Ireland, Scotland and Wales have also been positively impacted by the ongoing accreditation to the matrix Standard. The matrix Standard galvanises all IAG services and ensures that a more connected approach is consistently achieved and maintained for the future. 

The matrix Standard framework is currently under review and Roberta Nathan, Senior
Manager for Quality, Student Support, at The Open University is currently part of the Advisory Group and she has kindly shared her thoughts and hopes for the future: 

“I’m enthused by it [the Matrix Standard review]; I would hope they would keep the best parts of it and not over complicate it. It is interesting that it might be more comprehensive, and I would like to see it develop its Sector role more. We continue with the matrix Standard as we have found it works for us and it wraps around our service in a very informative and supportive way.”. Roberta and the team agree that the matrix Standard is unique and meets the needs of their students, their team, and The Open University IAG Service. 

Thank you to Roberta Nathan and Rosemary Copcutt from the Quality, Inclusion and Safeguarding TeamAcademic Services and Alice Mansfield from MarComms at The Open University for sharing your matrix Standard journey. 

matrix Standard is the Department for Education’s (DfE) standard for ensuring the delivery of high-quality information, advice and guidance (IAG)


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