Open University Policy

This page contains the Open University's statement of its policy with respect to animals, teaching and research.


University policy on teaching and research involving animals

Under the terms of its Royal Charter, The Open University is required to prosecute both teaching and research. The University therefore maintains a broad curriculum of undergraduate, masters and doctoral programmes in the biological sciences and an active research programme.


A Teaching

The term ‘life sciences’ covers a broad remit, from evolution, animal behaviour and ecology to physiology, molecular biology, genetics and health sciences, and courses offered within the Department of Life Sciences span this range. Such a curriculum, with its wide choice of courses at different levels, serves two different student purposes. One is to enable those with a general interest in the life sciences to deepen their understanding in specific areas, the other to make it possible for those wishing to pursue a professional career requiring a biologically-based degree to obtain the relevant specialist knowledge and competence. These essential skills are integral to The Quality Assurance Agency’s requirements for degrees including Life and Health Sciences.

The understanding of living processes occurring in animals can only be obtained by observations of and experiments on animals. Not all students wish to study courses that focus on animals, and there are other options available for them. However, many topics involve the study of living animals or their tissues. It is therefore the Open University’s duty to teach its students how to plan, execute and report investigations to obtain the most useful and reliable information from the fewest animals.

As in other sciences, biological facts and theories are based upon observation and experiment, and part of the process of achieving a qualification in biology requires that the student learns to test hypotheses concerning living processes by designing, conducting and interpreting such observations and experiments. Whilst plants, microbes or non-living model systems can be substituted in some cases, and every care is taken to minimise work with animals, some experience in handling and working with animal tissues is essential for students wishing to achieve competence in these subjects. Courses which require work with animal tissues are clearly identified as such on the courses website, and students not wishing to do such work are advised to make alternative course choices.


B Research

Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution both to the basic understanding of the nature of living processes and systems, and, importantly, to the diagnosis and treatment of a range of major 21st century health problems including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, skeletal and neuromuscular disorders, infectious diseases and mental illness. While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce experimentation involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made.

The Open University uses animals only in research programmes of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives. All such work is carried out under licences issued by the Home Secretary after weighing the potential benefits against the effects on the animals concerned. Research students and staff receive training in the legal and ethical aspects of animal experimentation, as well as instruction on husbandry and animal handling. The University is committed to the principles of Reduction, Refinement and Replacement (the 3Rs); on each project it ensures that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise animal welfare.

The University endorses the 3Rs and is committed to the development of technologies such as computer modelling that reduce animal use. Where the use of animals remains essential, the Open University is committed to a culture of care and respect for animal welfare.


C Ethics review

Both teaching programmes and research involving animals are subject to ethics review processes. The Open University’s Animal Ethics Advisory Group was one of the first such committees established in the UK and was set up at the request of the original Department of Biological Sciences. It provides ethical advice on standards of animal care, welfare and accommodation and ensures that those working with animals are aware of their responsibilities and receive appropriate training. Veterinary and animal care staff are actively involved in the ethics review of research, welfare and care of animals and provide ongoing advice and support to researchers where necessary.


Further Reading

  1. Home Office: Animals in Scientific Procedures (archived)
  2. Understanding Animal research:
  3. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research:
  4. The Medical Research Council:
  5. European Science Foundation:
  6. Academy of Medical Science: Publications