The Student Room Group
The what?
Reply 2
The Open College of the Arts. It's a distant learning university
Reply 3
Hi sammyf

I'm studying for the photography degree with the open college of the arts (OCA), in what would normally be termed the final year if it was in a traditional bricks and mortar university.

Obviously, I don't have any real experience of the music and creative writing material they offer, although excerpts of the material is normally available on their website - it certainly is for the photography courses anyway. There's also other places where you can get a feel for what they do - there's a twitter feed (@opencollegearts), a blog at, there's groups on Flickr for artists and photographers and I believe there's a Facebook page too, and maybe some other things relevant to the type of course you study (not sure). There's also a student run gallery at . When you join there's a student/tutor only forum that you can access.

Would I recommend them? Well, I've been doing my degree with them for the last 4 or 5 years now, and I'm still there, so they must be doing something right. The cost is very reasonable, and more importantly for me, it allows me to carry on working (which is why it's taking longer).

Talking from what I've seen for the photography course material, it has been written by a recognised professional who has also written many other books on photography, so I can only assume that it will be similar for the other courses (details probably on their website). The photography notes can seem a little basic at times, especially at the start of the introductory first level courses, but then the degree is open to all and you don't need 3 A-levels or whatever to join. This puts some people off before they start, but don't let it fool you. As with anything in life, you can just tick the boxes in a mechanical way, or you can get creative and do something that goes the extra mile. You will get out of it what you are prepared to put in.

You also get access to a tutor, who reviews your assignments along the way, and can answer the odd question. They don't tell you what to do though, which is just like a traditional uni tutor. You don't get "marks" as you go, but you have a feel if you're up to scratch or not based on their comments - assessment is done at one of the 3 events that take place through the year. Some of the photography tutors are outstanding, the ones I've had dealings with tend to be working pros with other uni experience.

Is it for you? Well, distance learning is different than going to college or uni. You have to be more disciplined - whilst the course may be more relaxed in terms of hand in dates for assignments, you still have a finite time to do the modules in (2 years per module). The extra time allows people to work and fit it all around normal family activities, rather than being a full time student - you can treat it like a full time course though, if you want. There's not so much in the way of uni resources, I don't know what it's like at a music establishment - access to mixing rooms and such I guess - and you don't get this with OCA, although they do arrange student visits to various events, and there have been tutorial weekends in the past. So you basically need your own access to the things you want to use. Speaking as a photography student, I don't have access to a uni studio, or specialist equipment, but then, it's not my style to need it anyway. I guess that's not a problem at all for creative writing.

There is a really good cohort of photography students, and there's some really interesting discussions that go on through the various Internet fora (forums?) that have been set up. Groups of photographers also meet up locally too, so there is contact with others. What the other groups are like, I can only guess that they will be similar. This goes a good way to dealing with the problem that some people feel with any distance learning course, and that's the distance aspect. One of the final year photography students is also collaborating with the creative writers - I'm not sure how this is going on, but it's nice to see that collaborative work happens.

So, would I recommend them? Yes, to those people who want to fit a creative degree around other activities (work, family, whatever) then I find it to be a great option.

If you have any specific questions, please ask away - my answers can only be from a photography perspective though.

Reply 4
Hi sammyf,

I've studied music with the OCA, as well as other institutions, and found it very worthwhile, so feel free to ask me anything, by email or PM (have messaged you).

I can also put you in touch with the student association, who have both a music and a creative writing representative. :smile:

Best wishes,

Reply 5
Original post by chrslwry
Hi sammyf,

I've studied music with the OCA, as well as other institutions, and found it very worthwhile, so feel free to ask me anything, by email or PM (have messaged you).

I can also put you in touch with the student association, who have both a music and a creative writing representative. :smile:

Best wishes,


Hi Chris, what music courses did you do?
Reply 6
Thank you for that Rob, that's really helpful. I have been to uni before I need to remain in full-time work so this seems like the best option for me so I can fit it around my shifts but still get a degree out of it. I am looking to do the creative arts degree. You say the level 1 is basic. How basic is it? I was interested in maybe doing a painting module purely because I enjoy it but I am terrible at it so I may stick to what I am good at.
Reply 7
Hi sammyf

I can only speak from experience of the photography modules, not the painting one. I say the L1 course is basic because it starts you off assuming that you need to learn everything, including what difference focal lengths, apertures and ISOs make, etc. For anyone that's used a camera for a while, that should be pretty straight forward stuff, and I would expect anyone embarking on a photography degree to have that sort of knowledge already.

The way the courses are written is for anyone to get something from it at an early level - they're open entry so they don't assume a basic understanding. That said, it's one thing to know that a certain aperture makes the background blurry, but another thing entirely to put that to a creative use. Once you do get past the first exercises, things certainly move on and at the end of the day, you get out what you put in.

Not being very good as something is also a matter of opinion, and whilst you might not paint like Leonardo, neither did Jackson Pollock and he did alright for himself. It's more about finding your place in the arts, how you interact with your audience (which might be just you and your tutor) and all that sort of stuff. I've often thought about doing a couple of other modules (sketching, graphic design), just for fun, but I've been putting that off until I've finished my photography degree.

HTH, Rob
Hi can anyone advise what you need to do in regards to photography equipment to start the degree, is it included in your course fees,or do you have to buy equipment separately? I would struggle to buy the equipment so not sure wether to wait until I have saved enough money for the equipment. Thanks
I am just pulling out of the Creative Arts Module on this degree. I found the level of support from the tutor very unsatisfactory and in fact far too critical for a Level 1 Module. I also tried their Art of Photography course and had the same experience. I don't recommend distance learning degrees, you need support to develop your work and this college does not provide enough.
Hi I'm halfway studying OCA drawing 1 Creative Art I feel now I have to give it up as the same as you for level 1 very critical too much on blogging than drawing ,
I might just go a evening class to boost my experience as I'm a mature student , just fell so low with OCA , Not worth the hassle .