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Our History
Playing our part in preserving the heritage of the Open College Networks

We’ve been around a long time with a proud history and heritage of being part of the national network of Open Colleges.

The current day AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group was borne out of a merger between AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group and Open College Network West Midlands on 1st September 2022.

Between them, the two awarding organisations have over forty years’ experience of developing regulated, high-quality qualifications for the education and training sector, and more recently, as a recognised specialist in the delivery of end-point assessments for apprentices.

Open College Networks – a brief history

Open College Networks are one of the great educational successes of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, yet their story is not that well known.

Historically, the Open Colleges operated independently within their regions providing open access to learning and progression to university through a network of local organisations including Further Education Colleges and Higher Education Institutions.

Our Journey...

1970s: The concept of an open college was first established when Nelson & Colne College set up a partnership with Lancaster University. Called the Open College of the North West, they provided courses and certificates as an alternative route for adults wishing to progress to Higher Education.

1980s: Open College Network Central England (OCNCE), Open College Network North-West Midlands (OCNNWM) and Open College Network West Midlands (OCNWM) were formed.

1981: Manchester Open College Federation was created and went on to develop the system of accreditation which became the model for all other Open Colleges. The model Manchester adopted broke the mould by showing that there were credit-based alternatives to conventional school and exam-based qualifications.

1990s: The Open Colleges began working together to develop a standard system of learning. It was around this time that Leicestershire OCN and North East Midlands Open College Network were formed. 

1991: The National Open College Network was set up as a formally constituted membership organisation to provide advocacy and support the development and cooperation of the national network of Open Colleges.

2000: By now there were 31 regionally based Open College Networks.

2005: These networks merged into 11 larger Open College Networks (East Midlands Region being one and West Midlands Region being another). These all still worked as separate and distinct organisations but in collaboration with the National Open College Network that had been set up in 1991.

2007: A landmark year that celebrated the 25th year of the Open College Networks and the 20th anniversary of the National Open College Network.

The history of this development was summarised in the 2007 publication ‘Celebrating Achievement – 25 years of Open College Networks’ by John Sanders and Patricia Whaley.

2008: Open College Network Wales, now Agored Cymru, had ceased to be members of the national network of Open Colleges.

2010: Peter Wilson, who was seconded by NIACE (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), to the National Open College Network to facilitate the further development of the Open College Networks, also referred to the growth of this social movement in his book ‘Big Idea, Small Steps - The making of credit based qualifications’.

Key events during this period of growth for us included Access to Higher Education becoming officially accredited through the creation of Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) and key working partnerships being developed within Further Education, Higher Education, Local Education Authorities, employers and Trade Unions and the voluntary and community sector.

Also in this year, Open College Network East Midlands Region changed their name to AIM to be recognised as a new Awarding Organisation. In 2012, AIM changed their name to AIM Awards.

2013: Open College Network West Midlands Region, along with the majority of the other English Open Colleges (Open College Network Wales) decided not to renew their agreement with NOCN (which legally changed their company name to this from the ‘National Open College Network’ in 2013). We now no longer have any association with NOCN or their qualifications.

2015: Open College Network West Midlands was borne out of a rebranding process of Open College Network West Midlands Region.

2017: National network of Open Colleges celebrated their 35th year.

2019: AIM changed their name from AIM Awards to AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group.

2022: AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group and Open College Network West Midlands merged and later that year, welcomed staff from former Awarding Organisation One Awards. The merged organisation continues to operate under the AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group name with offices in Wolverhampton, Billingham and Derby. 

Current Day: Today, as we face a constantly changing political landscape, we work independently as a national and international awarding organisation as the best way of serving the ever increasing diverse needs of learners in the new era of funding, localism and accountability.

We are committed to entering the next stage of our history with confidence and with a strong sense of supporting industry, communities and both young and adult learners through the provision of high quality learning journeys that recognise achievement, and by creating clear pathways and opportunities for progression into work or further and higher education.