Wednesday, May 25, 2011

OERu to establish OERTen

After the open planning meeting in March 2011, the Open Education Resources university concept has undergone elaborate discussions in many local, national and international venues.

The need for alternative systems to bridge the gigantic demand-supply gap existing (and increasing) in the traditional model of education is well explained in the words of Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Commonwealth of Learning at the Meeting of Focal Points for Africa & the Mediterranean : “Two years ago UNESCO’s World Conference on Higher Education identified massification as the major trend and the numbers are staggering – particularly here in Africa. Nearly one-third of the world’s population (29.3%) is under 15. Today there are 165 million people enrolled in tertiary education. Projections suggest that that participation will peak at 263 million in 2025.

Accommodating the additional 98 million students would require more than four major universities (30,000 students) to open every week for the next fifteen years. What are our assets in facing up to this responsibility?”

Dr. Wayne Mackintosh, Director, OER Foundation, Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand has pointed out in a group mail that: “We are witnessing significant cuts to higher education budgets around the world. Consider for example: the proposed budget cuts of around 50% to the four state-related institutions in Pennsylvania in the USA or the student protests in the UK as a result of government tripling tuition charges to up to £9,000 a year. Moreover, it is estimated that about one third and perhaps up to half of all university courses in the UK are not breaking-even and cross subsidised by other courses.

The OERu concept is based on two significant business enablers for building sustainable education futures:
  • the marginal cost of replicating digital learning materials is near zero, and
  • sharing course design and development costs among institutions is cheaper than doing this alone.
Therefore, collaboration networks are a prerequisite for the model to function -- hence the need for a collaboration network.”

On the above grounds, the OER university initiative is gaining additional momentum during each discussion and it is moving ahead with the work of establishing 'The OER Tertiary Education Network (OERTen).

According to Dr. Wayne, the OER Tertiary Education Network (OERTen) is the international innovation partnership of accredited universities, colleges and polytechnics who are and will be collaborating on the implementation of the OER university concept.

The network will include universities, community colleges and polytechnics -- in this way we avoid unnecessary duplication of infrastructure (i,e, OERu policies, processes etc.) across these sectors while recognising the unique differences of these institutions.

The network is co-ordinated by the OER Foundation -- an independent non-profit entity. As a non-profit, the OERF does not compete for students and is able to facilitate collaboration across the university and community college sectors.

The OER Foundation subscribes to open philanthropy which means the planning activities and supporting documentation for the OERu will be developed openly and transparently to facilitate wide international participation and sharing of ideas.

Implementation and operational decisions will be made by the OERTen anchor partners. A Management Committee comprising senior leaders appointed by the anchor partner institutions will be responsible for decision-making. As the network matures and grows, the Management Committee will develop appropriate governance solutions for managing the network.

OERTen anchor partners must:
  • be formally accredited institutions (sorry, no degree mill or diploma mill organisations allowed)
  • subscribe to the core principles of engagement for the OER university initiative
  • be a silver or gold members of the OER Foundation.

The OERTen is international and will facilitate cross border and transnational accreditation models. Taking existing anchor partners into account, the network would now be able to provide accreditation for OERu learners in New Zealand, Australia and the US. As more anchor partners from different regions of the world join OERTen -- we will be able to widen the geographical reach of formal accreditation for OERu learners. The project is targeting an initial OER network of ten institutions and planning to host the first meeting of Anchor partners late August or late September 2011. Date to be confirmed.

The immediate priority of OERTen is recruiting a critical mass of founding anchor partners for the OERTen. The stakeholders are requested to help the initiative by encouraging their own institutions to join the network and prioritise and select the inaugural qualification under the open curriculum initiative. This will be influenced by what existing anchor partners can bring to the table. Over the next few weeks work on developing and structuring the planning process will be commenced in the wiki including time lines, priority sub-projects / activities for the different initiatives in the logic model etc.

Definitely, I also believe that “2011 is turning out to be a quantum shift year for the mainstream adoption of OER” - as Dr. Wayne says in his communications.

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