I'm thinking of doing a maths degree at the Open University. This course

"BSc (Honours) Mathematics"

The problem is, I'm expected to do the most basic of courses, starting with "Discovering Mathematics"


Considering I have

  1. BSc in Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  2. MSc in Microwaves and Optoelectronics
  3. PhD in Medical Physics

this seems a bit of a waste of my time and money. Unfortunately I got my Ph.D in 1999, so whilst the OU permit "credit transfer", they will not count the Ph.D, or any earlier degrees.

I did their online test to see if I was ready for the next course "Essential Mathematics 1", and got every single answer correct. You have to select what your highest qualification was, and there was HNC/HND, but no choice of any sort of degree. Doing "Discovering Mathematics", which is said to be "Introduces and helps integrate key ideas from statistics, algebra, geometry and trigonometry into your everyday thinking to build your confidence in learning and using mathematics." really is a waste of my time and money.

I have telephoned, and asked about this credit transfer, and I was told there's no flexibility - the fact my last degree was more than 16 years ago, means it does not count.

I run an engineering company, doing fairly advanced maths. In fact, the reason I want to do the degree is that my maths is not good enough for some of the things I wish to do. But it is certainly much better than needed for a really basic course called "Discovering Mathematics"

Has anyone had any success in negotiating credit transfer after more than 16 years?

Results of doing their test to see if I'm ready for Essential mathematics 1 (MST124)

  • 4
    Is there any way that you can enrol in a specific lecture course rather than a whole degree? That way you could choose something relevant to what you need for your company. Mar 3, 2017 at 22:36
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    I looked at their website. They are absurdly rigid. I have two suggestions (but I don't live in the UK, so I can't promise they make sense in that context): 1) take a single class at what you yourself consider to be your correct level -- something you're truly interested in. Distance learning would be okay. Then present the transcript from that course next semester at the Open University. 2) Write to the department chair with a convincing, short letter and a CV and unofficial transcript attached. Mar 4, 2017 at 0:35
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    @ Natalie Hogg. Yes, your suggestion is something I'm considering, but it will be a bit annoying to spend time studying the harder material, and not get the degree, on the basis that I refused to waste my time on the real basic mater. Mar 4, 2017 at 16:33
  • @ aparente001 Hi, The problem with doing what you suggest, in doing another course first, is that it will cost me money to do that. Then the OU still will not consider the course. It is a good job employers don't consider a degree more than 16 years ago to be irrelevant !!! Mar 4, 2017 at 16:38
  • 1
    @Dr.DavidKirkby why don't you visit a regular university?
    – Rüdiger
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:30

5 Answers 5


I don't have the commenting functionality available, so will have to put this as an answer.

To be honest, given your background, I think the whole degree will be a waste of your time. I took essential math 1 and 2 two years ago, both are very easy and highly superficial. They claim to teach advanced material but in reality only go through very few and very basic examples in each, so in the end you don't really learn anything. I got like 100% in essential math 1 and 95% in essential math 2 and learned nearly nothing. You'd be better served by buying a good calculus book and studying it.

And more directly to your question - it is possible to negotiate with them directly. I was allowed to take essential math 1&2 simultaneously because I needed that background for sth else and couldn't wait a year. You just need to email their support team and explain your circumstances.

  • 1
    I'd hope that the 2nd and 3rd years would be more challenging, and extend my knowledge. Unfortunately, one of my worries about that is that the courses that will be available, are not known now. It must depend on the interests of the particular lecturers that are at the OU at that particular time. The OU says: "The modules quoted in this description are currently available for study. However, as we review the curriculum on a regular basis, the exact selection may change over time." Mar 4, 2017 at 16:45
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    There is an option to take an open degree, which means you are free to take whatever courses you like.
    – 12345
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:55
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    Yes, you have a point there. The Open Degree is something I had never come across until I looked at the OU, so I was only aware of such a degree in the last few weeks. I must admit, I can't see employers being too impressed by such a degree, as it seems a bit of a "soft option". But for my situation, it might be appropriate. That said, the Open Degree does not get around the fact it will work out just as expensive. I'd like the OU to to consider my previous degrees "credit transfer", which can reduce the cost. Mar 4, 2017 at 21:49
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    I had a similar logic at the time. And having experienced it, I don't think it's worth it: OU doesn't have the reputation to impress employers (in the industry or academia) and considering its foundational courses are bad, it's unlikely that there will be a steep increase in the quality in later years (after all, they need to cater to their audience, and that audience is poorly trained.) PhD in Physics is already very impressive as an academic achievement for most employers and implies strong math. A degree from OU is more likely to raise eyebrows and undermine the value of your PhD.
    – 12345
    Mar 5, 2017 at 10:46
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    A student can complete the OU maths degree full time in 3-4 years, starting at the "Discovering mathematics (MU123)", According to one website, the lowest ranked university for maths is London Metropolitan University (the OU is not listed). Even the London Metropolitan University wants A-level maths, or a closely related A-level. I find it totally implausible that 3 years spent stating at virtually zero maths at the OU, could allow one to reach the same standard as spending 3 years starting with even a modest A-level. I am giving up the idea - it would be a waste of my time/money. Mar 5, 2017 at 12:13

Have you considered enroling for an MSc in Mathematics? http://www.open.ac.uk/postgraduate/qualifications/f04 That seems like it might be more your speed. Anything that you're missing from the BSc portfolio you could presumably catch up on via self-directed study, but the MSc would reveal points where you need more work, and would simultaneously provide structure.


You really do not need another degree. Anyone who is going to be impressed by degrees, will be impressed by a Chartered Engineer with a PhD.

You do have good reasons for studying more mathematics, but, considering the rest of your situation, you need to do it efficiently. That means taking exactly the courses you need. Generally, that will conflict with getting another degree - any responsible degree-granting body is going to require you to cover a specific range of topics.

Looking specifically at the Open University, near the bottom of, for example, Undergraduate courses in 'Mathematics' there is a tab "Modules". The purposes include "study individually for interest or professional development." which sounds like you. They include quizzes for deciding if you are prepared for a given course.

You should consider costs and benefits of various distance learning options, including but not limited to the OU, and plan your own studies. As far as structure is concerned, anyone who is running an engineering company should be able to construct and manage a project plan for one student's studies.


I am a bit late answering, but I am also a current Q31 student so perhaps my specific knowledge of the course can help here.

I will prefix this answer by saying that in 2014 or so, the Open University decided to "modernize" its courses and one effect of this was to mandate 120 credits at level 1, not letting you move to level N+1 until you've done level N, as well as dropping things like Topology and Mathematical Logic as possible separate modules. They're moving to a scheme of mostly unavoidable 60-credit modules that cover everything to a reasonable degree, with far less flexibility. I don't like the changes, I believe the OU are dumbing down the maths degree and more broadly I am not alone in disliking the current direction of the OU.

Ok, contextual rant out of the way. I started on the previous degree programme B31, which only mandated 60 credits of level 1 study. I filled in 30 of these credits from the worthless "using statistics" module and have an exemption to use level 3 30 credit modules as level 1 modules. I suggest you ask for the same thing.

What this means is that you will be paying more for your degree and further, that you will be doing harder work for credits that only count in the sense of completion but have no weight for your overall grade. On the other hand, that for you might be (and for me definitely was) a worthwhile tradeoff instead of doing something mind-numbing.

I can't promise they'll let you do this and they certainly won't like it because "distance learning is difficult" (it is) but if you feel you are up to it I would insist as much as you can. You won't be able to replace the whole of level 1 either, but you might be able to get out of doing the full 120 credits. I suspect they will likely want you to do Discovering Mathematics, which I suggest you blow out of the park and then ask to move onto the level 2 modules, with your intent to substitute some of the level three modules for level 1 ones at a later date.

To give you an idea of topics covered, at level 2 you will do M208, which covers:

  • Linear algebra
  • Sequence, series and Real analysis
  • Basic group theory
  • Calculus
  • Some foundational material needed for the above i.e. limits

MST210 covers:

  • First and second order ODEs.
  • Vector algebra and statics.
  • Basic motion physics.
  • Matrices, eigenvalues and eigenvectors again).
  • Linear differential equations.
  • Physics like oscillation, damping, modelling, multivariate functions, rotating bodies, angular momentum.
  • Vector calculus
  • Fourier series

You then have choice of level three modules in the mathematics curriculum, which is where the fun actually starts since much of what I've listed above is basically first year and maybe second year mathematics for many full time undergrad students. The modules at level 3 are generally quite in depth and quite good and the material is well written, if a bit repetitive at times (useful though for distance learning).

So I guess it depends how much this material matches the level you want to read mathematics at. You should also realize that even if the course isn't that hard, the mechanical work of completing the exercises, assignments, exams and studying the material is quite time consuming. I am sure you can do it, but you should plan on this taking you 6 years to complete at 60 credits per year. If you are organised and only care about passing, you might manage more than this with a full time job, but it will not be easy.

Since you really seem to be looking for the content rather than the actual qualification (since you already have several degrees!), if you want to get up to speed with the sort of material on MST210 it might be better to buy a copy of Jordan & Smith's Mathematical Techniques first, which is "the" reference textbook for, well, mathematical techniques, for maths, physics and engineering degree students as the book says. It'll give you the basic grounding for the applied side of mathematics up to about second year mathematics undergraduate in the UK for most courses if you read the whole thing (you'll miss out on the more theoretical courses, which will likely be real and complex analysis, group theory, ring and field theory, number theory and you'll also miss out on statistics).

On the other hand, if you already have this grounding, you won't get beyond it until 240 credits into OU study and I'd second other answerer's comments about finding a suitable masters programme as a probable starting point.

The Mathematics Institute at Oxford also helpfully publish all their course summaries and most importantly of all reading list recommendations which are pretty good. If there are specific areas you need to know about at a more advanced level than Jordan & Smith, this is a good place to start looking for book recommendations.


Answering a bit late here but there are other options with the OU including postgraduate certificate/diploma and indeed the masters in mathematics course.

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