I was so excited when I received the email to say I’d been allocated a place at the OU Conference 2018. Not only would I be able to meet other OU students and visit the campus in Milton Keynes, but I’d get the opportunity to vote on important matters that would shape the Open University’s future.
Feelings of Isolation
At this point I’d studied with the OU for four years and was coming to the end of my degree. I’d only ever met a few people by attending lectures or because we had to communicate for our modules. Study with the OU can feel very isolated at times, it’s hard to think that you’re part of something much bigger when you don’t actually get to meet anyone. That’s why I was so excited when I was told I had a place.
The conference ran for a weekend in June, and the OU provided all accommodation, food and information you needed to thoroughly enjoy the event; all you had to do was turn up!
Arriving on Campus
I arrived to Milton Keynes late Friday afternoon. I registered and was given a gift bag full of OU goodies (although because I arrived later than most, I missed out on a water bottle, sigh), information about the weekend’s activities and most importantly, I was given the information regarding the important decisions we’d be voting on the next day.
Walking around the campus was a dream. Being a distance learning establishment, I never thought I’d get to go to the site, but I’m so glad I did as there was so much to see! OU volunteers took students on tours of the buildings to showcase the great work the Open University has and is doing and to see where the magic happens!
I wandered onto the lawn to find all sorts of activities taking place. Staff and volunteers had prepared a series of fun, interactive and sociable events to get everyone involved and talking. Itinerary in hand, I was keen to see what else was going on – there was a lot!
Before I’d even had the chance to look lonely or out of place, I’d been approached by one of the volunteers who asked me where I’d come from, what I’d like to do that day and she showed me where to get my food and have a drink – I immediately felt more at ease. Many of us OU students study with them because we suffer from conditions that stop us attending usual institutions, so imagine how daunting walking into a crowd of people you don’t know and saying hello can be! This lovely lady took away the stress of that for me and I grabbed myself some lunch and sat down with the other students.
There was so much going on that Friday – including dinner and drinks after the daytime fun – but I was so tired from travel that I decided to head back to my room and get some kip. The OU had put students up in two different locations; the Hilton Hotel and a conference centre close by. I was in the conference centre, which felt a bit like university halls all over again! I actually preferred it because I had lots of space in the room to relax and I wasn’t alone or trying to work out who was a hotel guest and who was an OU student. Voting started early the next day, so I was keen to get some reading and rest in beforehand, although from what I heard, the partying went on all night for some!
The Business Part
The following day, I woke up early to head to the campus once more. The OU had put together a timetable for the walking bus and the actual bus which was free, with a route map – it wasn’t too far to walk but you had the option which was nice. I grabbed a wonderful breakfast from the restaurant in the centre, as the OU provided vouchers for the weekend – it really was great – and headed over to the main campus for 8.30am.
When I arrived I was given my voting handset. I had a good idea of what was going on as I’d been through the paperwork on Friday evening, and was keen to get into the theatre to start taking part in making some important decisions. I have to say the night before must have been really good, as the people around me were still pretty hungover and laughing about their various antics. I got talking with them and what made me laugh the most was that no matter what age you are, given the opportunity, everyone seemed to love the idea of living the ‘real’ student life for the weekend, really immersing themselves in the frivolities!
As I’d opted not to be involved in any media (which I’m not sure I even know the reasoning behind, still!?) I was in a seperate theatre with lots of others who’d done the same, with a live feed from the main the hall. Those who couldn’t attend conference but still wanted to take part in the voting (digital delegates), were given the opportunity to vote from home.
Then Student Association President Nicola Simpson opened the proceedings, followed by Acting Vice Chancellor Mary Kellet, who addressed conference. 294 were in attendance for the face to face voting, and 104 digital delegates at home. Then we began to work through the propsed amendments to the Constitution. I was amazed to see how passionate and knowledgable my fellow students were about the proposed changes – there were some great questions and at times things got quite heated – Nicola managed the whole situation incredibly well – to think that she too was once just a student shows that you really can achieve anything if you believe in it and are willing to dedicate yourself to your cause.
After the voting, which took a good few hours, we received a lovely speech from Mary Curnock Cook (OBE), a member of the OU Council and all round fascintating woman – I felt so empowered after listening to her talk about her experiences with higher education and how she got to where she is. I don’t think anyone left the voting without feeling proud of who they were and what they’d achieved – despite it being ridiculously hot inside the auditorium due to the heatwave.
Time For Fun!
With the business part over and done with, it was time for more celebrations of student life. We all headed to the canteen to grab some lunch, and then proceeded to the various activities taking place across the campus. The itinerary was jam-packed with different things to do; workshops, dancing, signing up for associations, University Challenge and so much more. That night there was a fancy dress disco and of course, the bar was open early doors!
The Final Day
On the Sunday, the morning brought more workshops and speakers, and then it was hometime for everyone. I was so glad I attended conference. I felt a sense of achievement being a part of the decision-making process, met some fabulous people and got to visit the campus which I’d always wanted to do. It encouraged me to attend my graduation ceremony and to engage further in the student community.
If you get the chance to apply to attend conference, I’d highly recommend registereing and going if picked – you’ll have a wonderful time with wonderful people and get to explore the campus, whilst involving yourself in the OU’s future. OU students are incredibly passionate and I’m proud to now be a graduate!