As a bit of background to this, I started my first degree as a teenager quarter of a century ago. It was an 'ordinary' engineering degree, a 4 year sandwich course which mean I was working in industry for the three summer breaks, the long university breaks which other students usually spend inter-railing round Europe - although I may be showing my age saying this. With classes, assignments and lab work this was a 9-5 Mon to Fri with extra study required in the evening and it was a real struggle, both to keep up with the work and to pass the exams.
Much later in my career I was lucky enough to be sponsored for an industry part-time MBA. This took four years of pretty constant work in the evenings, similar to that required for the OU, but also one weekend a month in class and a residential course/project one week a year. Again, it was a struggle to keep up with work and pass the exams.
In comparison to these previous courses, the OU PPE courses so far have been less work and easier assignments. Although this judgement may be tempered by the fact that I am doing the course for fun - really as a hobby - not to start or advance my career. Therefore the pressures are different, as is my knowledge and world experience, so if I went back to do my previous degrees again I may find them easier - who knows.
The conclusion that I am left with, considering these facts in isolation, is that this OU PPE degree can not possibly be equivalent, in course content or academic rigour, to that of my past courses or to degrees taken at a traditional university.
I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this subject, but I can't help feeling that the Open University would increase the rigour of the course assessments and the quality of learning experience for their students (or client-learners as we are now) if they only revealed the TMA questions at the start of the scheduled 'TMA week'.
Method 1. - To learn and gain as much knowledge as possible,
Which leads to then other bug-bear I have that of TMAs coming back from different tutors at different times. They should all be returned on the 14th day, except those who have the two week extension.
The three exams I have sat so far seemed on the surface to be sufficiently taxing, but there does seem to be a real element of chance involved with 'spotting' possible questions, especially in the Philosophy course where the books are so compartmentalised. While in the recent economics exam the fact that some questions were, to all intents and purposes, identical to example exam questions in the only example exam paper the OU had produced for that course, surely casts major doubt on the veracity, fairness and outcomes from that exam.
Having said all this, the OU does a very necessary job of opening up degree study opportunities for those who through choice, life chance or circumstance were not able to go to university straight from school. Effectively the OU is democratising further education. It is not necessarily the brightest in society that go to university straight from school, it is usually those with better financial resources and life chances who get this opportunity, and therefore those who seek education through the OU as 'mature students' should be recognised for the sacrifices (financial costs, family time, etc.), drive and commitment required to pursue a degree as a more mature student while juggling family, career and whatever else life throws at them.
So, while the OU's courses may not be as academically rigourous as traditional universities on a absolute scale, I think there is a very credible argument that for many there is an 'equivalent' level of rigour, given the many student's past opportunities and learning experiences. You'd expect somebody from a wealthy background, who had been educated at a private school, to get into a top university and attain a good degree - after all it is what their parents have been paying for. So for those without these life advantages to self fund and commit to studying for a degree is certainly a statement to this person's character and ambition.
For these reasons, and indeed others, should I finally be awarded an Open University degree in two years time I will be very proud to have it on my C.V., and if anybody asks if an Open University degree as good as traditional university degree I will have to ask them to clarify what parameters they are using to measure this value against, because in some ways, possibly in more important ways, the Open University degree carries more value.