Open University campaign for better representation of Black and Asian students in marketing imagery

Media representation can do more to encourage greater university enrolment from Black and Asian students, says Melissa Thermidor, a programme director at the Open University

The Open University (OU) prides itself on being open to people, places, methods and ideas and is passionate about widening access. 

For over 50 years the OU has promoted educational opportunity and social justice by providing high-quality education to all those who wish to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential. As an institution we celebrate diversity and the strengths that it brings and we believe that improving the authentic representation of Black and Asian students in our communications is key. 

This is why we have partnered with Alamy, the world’s most diverse stock photo library to start to build a collection of photos that better represent Black and Asian distance learning students. We feel that stock images currently available are not as authentic or relatable as they could be and don’t reflect the reality of distance learning, and we want to change that. 

The Alamy legacy collection is inspired by the portraits commissioned by the OU by Press Association’s photographer Inzajeano Latif, depicting the stories of four students.

We wanted the photography captured by Inzajeano to tell the stories of some of our existing students through the photography campaign and I am very proud of the outcome.

Our students are our most powerful ambassadors so we want to celebrate them and highlight their higher education journeys to inspire others.

Each of the students featured has their own unique path that led them to distance learning from the flexibility it has allowed them, to their ambitions to pursue and enhance existing careers. 

For example, Halima felt huge pressure to consider studying face-to-face at university, but with the OU she was able to finance her studies upfront, continue to run her care business and has been able to travel and get married, things she feels would have been hindered by  studying at a less flexible, bricks and mortar university.

Our students are our most powerful ambassadors so we want to celebrate them and highlight their higher education journeys to inspire others.

Joe had already started his career within the NHS, as a pharmacy assistant and inspired by his dad, a now retired NHS psychiatrist, he knew he wanted to study psychology but he didn’t want to have to give up a job he really enjoyed in order to get a degree. The OU has offered him flexibility and as his degree is accredited by the British Psychological Society,  it provides Joe with the professional credibility he needs for his chosen career. 

Using these inspiring student stories and photographs, through Alamy we want to encourage photographers to continue to submit images that reflect life from the perspective of Black and Asian students in the UK in a authentic, relatable yet inspirational way.

The images are part of an ever-growing legacy collection, which will be available via Alamy for other organisations to use in their marketing materials, as an ongoing commitment to diversity in stock images.

We hope initiatives like this, alongside our wider strategic initiatives, at the university at an institutional level, will help encourage greater enrolment from Black and Asian students.

Melissa Thermidor, is a director of outreach at the Open University.

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