Renowned British photographer Chris Floyd, famed for his high-end celebrity portraiture and reportage photography, has been travelling up and down the UK capturing stories of inspiring people to celebrate The Open University's 50th anniversary.
From a former prisoner turned academic and a young woman research pioneer in moon exploration to an ex-soldier who studied in the field with waterproofed books, these portraits of former and current students have been unveiled today alongside archive images dating from 1969 when the "university of air" was founded.
The Open University has grown from supporting just 24,000 students in 1969 to over 19 million today. It is the largest university in the UK and supports students across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and around the world.
Vice Chancellor Mary Kellett said: "We’ve come a long way since 1969. Our story is one that changes lives, pushes boundaries and challenges society to think differently about education. Our mission to be open to all, the way we teach, and our range of students are what makes the Open University unique.
"These photographs bring this to life brilliantly, with every image highlighting the reach, flexibility and diversity of the excellent education we offer and the tenacity and commitment of our students."
Floyd’s photographs include a portrait of the university's researcher, Hannah Sargeant, who is studying for her PhD in planetary science, with her research focused on the first mission to the south pole of the moon to extract water from moon matter – a revolutionary Space Agency mission that has never been done before.
Sargeant is breaking boundaries as one of the only women in the field of moon exploration, and credits the OU with her career progression: "What The Open University has offered me is very unique – I’m able to do practical and potentially ground-breaking research in an institute that not only accepts but encourages people who don’t fit an expected norm.
"My confidence in myself and my work has grown during my time at The Open University, and I’m now a STEM ambassador and want to encourage more young people to join the space industry."
Another of Floyd’s photographs features Felix Asare-Donkoh, who joined the army after completing his A-levels, but felt he still wanted to continue his education. Rather than leave the armed forces, Felix joined The Open University and gained his Bachelor of Engineering remotely while stationed overseas in Cyprus and the Falkland Islands.
Asare-Donkoh took his education seriously and even waterproofed his books so he could study in challenging conditions. He said of his experience: "What I’ve achieved would have been impossible without the OU.
"The flexibility and support they offered me meant I didn’t have to choose between my career and my education, and the reality is, that because of that, I was able to get hands-on, practical experience in the armed forces that is incredibly relevant to my degree. It was tough at times, but every minute of hard work was worth it."
Stephen Akpabio-Klementowski, an OU graduate and former prisoner, also features in the collection. He began studying with The Open University while serving a 16-year sentence and credits the university with helping him to turn his life around. After studying Social Sciences in prison, he went on to join The Open University as a member of staff, where he now helps those studying in secure environments.
Stephen said, "Back then, I couldn’t even imagine the life I have now – I am an entirely different person, and for the better. Being given the opportunity to study for real, meaningful qualifications while in prison is a lifeline. My hope is that the work I do now can help other people who were in my situation build a better life for themselves."
To find out more about Chris Floyd's new collection, as well as The Open University archives, visit www.open.ac.uk.