Open College of the Arts - Advice For Parents & How To Prepare

The Open College of the Arts (OCA) offers an alternative to campus learning for creative arts students who want to obtain a higher level qualification.

With no fixed term times, students can start when it suits them and fit their studying around work, travel and other commitments.

More than 50,000 people aged 18 to 80+ have studied with OCA over the last 25 years. 

  • Around 95% of OCA students are based in the UK
  • OCA has the lowest higher education fees in the UK
  • Under £8,000 fees to reach degree level (2013/14)
  • Students can enrol on their first level 1 course for the discounted fee of £795 without making any further commitment to studying with the college
  • OCA is a charity so any surplus we make is invested in improving what we offer students

Is higher level study right for your son or daughter?

There is a great deal of soul-searching for students who accept a place on a degree course, leave home – and then decide it’s not for them.  With OCA, your son or daughter can sign up for their first level 1 course, then, if they have adapted well to studying at university level, progress to levels 2 and 3 based on their success at formal assessment.

Drawing, photography and textiles students who think that starting at degree level may be too demanding can opt for OCA’s pre-degree courses. Starting here may give them the stepping stone they need to reach their goal of studying for an undergraduate degree.

Making a different choice about higher level study

For many young people, the experience of meeting new people and moving away from home is as important a part of the university experience as the subject they study. But that’s not true for all young people, whether they have just left school, finished a gap year or found a job. 

  • Some who are not socially confident may feel daunted by the prospect of taking on study at higher level at the same time as finding their feet independently of their family.
  • Staying at home makes it possible for some young people to study for a degree who would otherwise have found it very difficult to do so, for example because of a disability.
  • Students who have been home schooled – 20,000 in the UK and rising - may see no reason to change their living arrangements as they embark on the next stage of their education journey.

How studying with OCA is different from studying at conventional university

  • All OCA’s degrees are offered through open learning. Students study at a time to suit them, at home, at work or in their own studio.  Thanks to developments in technology over the last 20 years, open (or distance) learning has become much more interactive than it used to be, and is no longer the isolating experience some students used to find it was.
  • To supplement written course materials, students can participate in online communities moderated by OCA. Some forums bring together students studying the same subject. Others create opportunities for students living in the same part of the country to get to know one another better.  OCA also offers free regular study visits (student just pay their travel costs) led by OCA tutors which take place across the UK. There were 66 study visits in 2012/13 alone.
  • Open learning doesn’t suit everyone, but it is has a great deal to offer students who are self-motivated, passionate about their subject and organised about how they manage their time.  As OCA students don’t attend lectures or seminars, they need a place at home where they can study and develop their creative practice.

Making your money go further

  • It costs around £8,000(2013/14) to reach degree level with OCA - around a third of the cost of an undergraduate degree programme at a conventional university.  Payment is by course so most students pay as they go over a period of five to six years. 
  • Some students aren't sure that they want to study for a full degree when they first enrol with OCA. What works for them is to try one of our courses to find out if learning with OCA through open learning fits with how they like to study.  Fees for the first course a student takes cost around 20% of the standard fee - that's £795 for a single course for students based in the UK.
  • Students studying for their first degree are eligible to apply for student financeto help with the cost of their studies.  OCA undergraduate courses attract funding for part-time degrees. Students who choose to study full time will still attract funding for fees, but there is no entitlement to maintenance funding as there is for students studying full time.
  • The OCA’s Learner Support Fund provides additional support for personal development learners who can demonstrate commitment and potential and who are seeking help with a single course unit but who face financial or other practical constraints that prevent them from enrolling in the usual way. The scheme is part of the OCA's charitable purpose and commitment to equality of opportunity. 

More flexibility

OCA encourages students to spend around eight to ten hours a week on their course work and linked reading and research. Opting for open learning and part-time study give students greater choice about how to spend their time as they work towards a higher level qualification.

  • They can combine studying with working in a sector related to their career ambitions.
  • They can find a job simply to gain work experience and be more financially independent.
  • They may have other commitments, such as caring responsibilities, or interests they are keen to carry on developing, such as volunteering.

Value to employers

All OCA’s undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses are accredited by The University for the Creative Arts and have the same status as a degree from a conventional university.  Unlike graduates who go straight from school to university, most OCA graduates can demonstrate to potential employers that they can manage the demands of the workplace because they have studied part-time at the same time as holding down a job.

In common with other higher education institutions in the UK, successful assessment on OCA courses attracts credits under the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATs) scheme, used by many universities in the United Kingdom to monitor, record and reward passage through a modular degree course and to facilitate movement between courses and institutions. 

Students who leave school, start work and decide after a few years that they would like to return to education and study for a degree may be able to use the skills and knowledge they already possess to gain entry to an OCA course at level 2 or 3 under the APELs scheme.  There is also the option under the scheme to gain exemption from some parts of the course once they have been accepted by OCA.

Growing trend for undergraduates to stay at home

There is trend in the UK for students to choose a university in their home town and live with their parents. 

  • A survey by the bank HSBC in 2011 found that a quarter of undergraduates plan to live with their parents as a result of tuition fee increases, with the main reason cited being to save on living expenses.
  • Figures released in 2011 by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, before the increases in tuition fees were implemented later in the year, show that 19% of all undergraduates (310,000 students in 2010) chose to live at home – up from only 8% in 1984.