MILTON KEYNES, England, July 6, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Open University (OU) has marked its first degree ceremony 40 years after the first students crossed the stage at London's Alexandra Palace to collect their awards. The University first began hosting these memorable events to honour its graduating students in 1973, when some 867 students gathered with their friends and family for the inaugural ceremony. Since then, the OU has hosted more than 700 such events in locations across the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world and a typical year will see more than 20 ceremonies taking place. During that time the OU has grown to become the largest university in the UK and is widely regarded as a leader in the field of flexible diplomas and degrees including the MBA with around a quarter of a million students, 15,000 of which are overseas. The OU is also the top UK University for student satisfaction. Back on June 23 1973 Baron Perry of Walton, then Vice-Chancellor used his speech to commend the assembled students and praise their contribution to the development of the fledging University. He said: "You, the graduates were the goal that we dimly discerned through the mists of doubt and uncertainty. "Those who succeed have exhibited not only the necessary intellectual capacity, but also qualities of staying power and determination that will, I predict, come to be regarded as the particular hallmark of ... The Open University." Almost two million students have now studied with The Open University in courses ranging from Digital Photography to Astro-Physics. The University is also home to world-leading research across a range of subjects at its central campus in Milton Keynes as well as at its other bases around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Speaking ahead of the anniversary, Martin Bean, current Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, said: "The Open University has always been at the cutting edge of flexible learning, from our early days of BBC programmes right through to our use of today's technology which allows people to study wherever they are and however they wish. "Those early values of flexibility and openness are still at the heart of the OU today and our students still display the qualities so praised by Walter Perry at that first graduation ceremony. Now more than ever it is important that people are able to learn and develop themselves without putting their lives on hold, and indeed some 70% of our students are in employment whilst studying. "Meeting graduates at some of our degree ceremonies is one of the best parts of my job, and this weekend presents the opportunity to reflect on how far we've come over the last 40 years and to look forward to the countless students still to enjoy that happy moment of crossing the stage to collect their degree."