EDUCATION FOR the masses is not a new idea. British educationalist and historian J. C. Stobart - most famous for his books The Glory That Was Greece and The Grandeur That Was Rome - was advocating it as early as 1926. Radio was still relatively new. As the British Broadcasting Company's first director of education, he advocated using the medium to create a 'wireless university' which would broadcast lectures into the drawing rooms of thousands of Britons around the country. It took decades for his dream to come true. The idea of education for the masses might seem old hat today, but in a class-conscious society such as early 20th century Britain, it was a revolutionary idea. It was not until the early 1960s that the idea of a broadcast-based university became fashionable in left-wing circles. In 1963, a study group formed by Britain's Labour Party produced a report warning of the danger that the exclusion of large parts of British society from higher education presented. It proposed a revolutionary idea, an experimental 'university of the air' that would use television and radio. While the idea did not make it into the Labour Party's 1964 election manifesto, Harold Wilson, who became prime minister, made it his pet project, appointing Jennie Lee as minister for the arts to work on plans for such an institution. Rejecting plans developed under the previous Conservative government for a 'college of the air', she was adamant that it should be a fully fledged university. 'I knew it had to be a university with no concessions, right from the beginning,' she said. 'After all, I have gone through the mill myself, taking my own degree, even though it was a long time ago. I knew the conservatism and vested interests of the academic world. I didn't believe we could get it through if we lowered our standards.' Following Labour's subsequent victory in 1967, a cabinet planning committee was set up 'to work out a comprehensive plan for an open university'. The name university of the air was dropped after the media ridiculed the idea of people obtaining degrees by watching television. The concept continued to face considerable opposition, with one member of parliament referring to it as 'blithering nonsense'. In the end, it went forward, and in two years the first prospectuses for what had come to be known as the Open University were published. The first students started their studies in 1971. By the middle of the decade it was clear that there was enough interest in the concept for it to succeed. Walter Perry, who had spent most of his working life as a member of the staff of the Medical Research Council and as professor of pharmacology, was appointed as the institution's first vice-chancellor. 'I had no experience of any of the new universities, nor had I ever been involved in adult education,' he said. 'I had heard about the university of the air, but I regarded it as a political gimmick unlikely ever to be put into practice. It wasn't until my son read out the advertisement for the post of vice-chancellor that I began to think seriously about the proposal and the challenge it presented.' Expansion continued in the 1980s and new areas of study were added in the 1990s. As enrolment increased, the university spread its wings - first to Europe and then around the world. The Open University of Hong Kong, formerly known as the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong, was launched in 1989. With more than 100 postgraduate, degree, associate degree and sub-degree programmes, it is one of several institutions around the world that have been modelled on the Open University. Among its most popular offerings are MBAs, which are offered in English and Chinese.