I was surprised that the OU didn't secure an Access Agreement with OFFA, and now see that they have announced a fee of £5,000 for full-time students, so an Access Agreement was not required. This will allow the OU to bid for substantial numbers of the sub-£7,500 places available via core/margin, as reported by the Higher.
But the key question is, can they recruit the students? OU students, even if studying at a full-time rate, will not be regarded as full time by student finance regulations, and therefore living cost grants and loans will not be available, only fee loans. See http://www3.open.ac.uk/contact/faq.aspx?t=S&cat=1-BC803F
This looks to me (why beat about the bush?) like a massive own-goal.
A very substantial proportion of the OU's students are highly qualified learners doing another degree (hence their big issue when the ELQ policy was introduced). These people will not be entitled to fees loans either, so are likely to be priced out at the new rate. Meanwhile the kind of learners likely to be attracted by a low price-point for FT study (predominantly poor people) aren't going to be able to get by for three years with no source of maintenance income. Students combining distance learning style degrees at a FT rate with enough paid work to meet their bills are, frankly, going to suffer the most enormous attrition. I don't believe this constitutes a viable business model in even the medium term.
My fear all along has been that the OU would find a modified means of delivering its programmes that blends the current DL offer with enough attendance to meet the student fees regulations definition of 'full time' and hence make living costs loans available as well as fees loans. At £6k or even £7k, it seems to me that this would have been a really compelling offer, certainly in core programmes such as Business and Law where there is plenty of demand. As a disruptive entrant to the FT market the OU had the scale, credibility and experience to put all other 'private providers' in the shade. Profit made in the FT market could have subsidised fees for the PT learners, or made bursaries available for those not supported by the Government.
Perhaps the level of change involved in such a huge organisation felt like too much, or perhaps the OU has much better data than I do on the willingness and ability of learners to study FT without maintenance grant or loans, so perhaps I will be proven wrong. But I would guess that many more PT learners will be lost at this rate than PT learners gained, and at the £5k price point I doubt there is enough profit in the new learners to make up for the loss of the old.