Scottish Government Support for Open Education?

“We broadly support open licences and OER and need a serious public debate on this issue.”

~Michael Russell, MSP

This was the Minister for Education’s response to a question I put to him earlier today regarding Scottish Government support for open education policy and open licences for publicly funded educational resources in order to benefit learners, not just within Scotland, but internationally.  The Minister was speaking at the Future of Higher Education In Scotland and the UK event in Edinburgh, organised by the ESRC Fellowship Project: Higher Education, the Devolution Settlement and the Referendum on Independence.

In a wide-ranging speech outlining the Scottish Government’s vision of higher education in an independent Scotland, Russell stated that we need an education sector that can meet the challenge of new technological advancement and institutions that can fully explore the potential of new technologies for learning. MOOCs and OER have great potential to form new pathways to learning, to widen participation and promote a culture of collaborative development and reuse. Consequently a core group supported by SFC has been established to look at the benefits of OER and promote online learning resources produced by Scottish universities.  This group is composed of the Open University and the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde; UHI may also have a role to play. 

While it’s hugely encouraging to hear the Minister for Education acknowledging the importance, not just of the inevitable MOOCs, but of OER and open education more generally, I have some concerns that with such a narrow group of stakeholders involved in the core group, the scope of the debate might fail to encompass the wider benefits of open education to the Scottish sector as a whole.  Open education policies and practice have the potential to benefit teachers and learner right across the sector, in schools, colleges and universities, in formal and informal learning scenarios, and to support life long learning right across the board.

As yet, no further details have been released regarding the nature of the core group activities and the level of SFC investment, so we will continue to watch these developments with interest.  

ETA A summary transcript of Russell’s speech has been made available by the Scottish Government here. The relevant paragraphs relating to open education are as follows:

“I am very encouraged by the potential of massive open online courses – short courses delivered online that can be taken by anyone, anywhere. Of course, we must ensure quality of provision, however, free resources such as these have great potential to provide pathways to formal learning and widen participation in higher education.

“That is why I have indicated to the Scottish Funding Council that, in supporting this new work, they should facilitate the best open practice in Scotland and enhance the sector’s capacity and reputation for developing publicly available online learning materials.

“It is a very exciting prospect that a student anywhere in the world can access materials presented by world-class academics working in world class Scottish universities.

Martin Hawksey has made a twitter archive of the event hashtag available here: #HEScot and all papers from the event have now been uploaded here: Seminar 3: The future of higher education in Scotland and the UK.

POERUP Policy Advice for Universities

poerup_2Policies for OER Uptake (POERUP) is a European Commission funded Life Long Learning Programme project, coordinated by Sero Consulting, which is carrying out research to understand how governments can stimulate the uptake of OER by policy means. The project aims to:

convince decision-makers that in order to be successful with OER, they will have to formulate evidence-based policies based on looking beyond one’s own country, region or continent, beyond the educational sector they look after.

POERUP have already undertaken a survey of open education policy along with developments in education, e-learning, internet and copyright in 26 countries and have produced a series of comprehensive reports which can be viewed on the Country Reports wiki.

The project is also tasked with producing OER policy documents for a number of EU nations including Scotland, and the team are keen to work with those who have been involved in Open Scotland. The project are also drafting three EU-wide policy papers for schools, colleges and universities on
fostering OER uptake, which will act as aides-mémoire for the national policy documents. A draft of the POERUP EU-wide Policies for Universities is available here.

This document provides an invaluable overview of policy developments relative to open education from EU initiatives (e.g. Bologna, Europe 2020, Opening Up Education), OER projects, lobbyist circles (e.g. Opal, UNESCO/COL) and POERUP working meetings. From this evidence base, the following eighteen Policy Proposal Recommendations have been synthesised. In formulating these proposals care has been taken

not to over-focus on OER as an end but more of a means towards educational transformation.

To provide comments or feedback on these recommendations please contact Paul Bacsich of Sero Consulting at paul.bacsich@sero.co.uk.

Recommendations for European Commission and via EU for the Member States

Innovation – new institutions

1. The Commission should set up a competitive innovation fund to develop one new “European” university each year with a commitment to low-cost online education around a core proposition of open content.
Accreditation of institutions – new accrediting bodies and mutual recognition
2. The Commission should foster the development of transnational accrediting agencies and mutual recognition of accreditations across the EU.
3. The Commission should reduce the regulatory barriers against new kinds of HE providers (e.g. for-profit, from outside the country, consortial, etc).

Quality agencies

4. Quality agencies in ENQA49 should:  Develop their understanding of new modes of learning (including online, distance, OER and MOOCs) and how they impact quality assurance and recognition;

  • Engage in debates on copyright;
  • Consider the effects of these new modes on quality assurance and recognition;
  • Ensure that there is no implicit non-evidence-based bias against these new modes when accrediting institutions both public and private including for-profit (if relevant), accrediting programmes (if relevant) and assessing/inspecting institutions/programmes.

Bologna-bis: competence-based not time-based assessment

5. The Commission and related authorities developing the European Higher Education Area50 should reduce the regulatory barriers against new non-study-time-based modes of provision: in particular by developing a successor to Bologna based primarily on competences gained not duration of study.

Assessment and accreditation of modules

6. The Commission should recommend to universities that they should work to improve and proceduralise their activity on APL (Accreditation of Prior Learning) including the ability to accredit knowledge and competences developed through online study and informal learning, including but not restricted to OER and MOOCs, with a focus on admitting students with such accredited studies to the universities’ own further courses of study.
7. The Commission should recommend to the larger member states that they should each set up an Open Accreditor to accredit a range of studies which could lead to an undergraduate degree. In the first instance the Accreditor should focus on qualifications in the ISCED 5B area as this is most correlated with high-level skills for business and industry.

Funding mechanisms for institutions and content

8. The Commission should foster work into standardised syllabi EU-wide for undergraduate degrees in certain professions (e.g. medicine, nursing, mathematics, IS/IT) where this is appropriate for EU-wide action, and in the light of a successful outcome to such initiatives, foster the developments of common bases of OER material to support these standards, including relevant open repositories and (ideally jointly with publishers) open textbooks.
9. The Commission should ensure that any public outputs from its programmes (specifically including Erasmus for All and Framework) are made available as open resources under an appropriate license.
10. The Commission should encourage member states to do likewise for their national research and teaching development programmes, including for the public funding component of university teaching.
11. The Commission should encourage member states to increase their scrutiny of the cost basis for university teaching and consider the benefits of output-based funding for qualifications.

IPR issues

12. The Commission should adopt and recommend a standard Creative Commons license for all openly available educational material it is involved in funding. This should currently be Creative Commons 3.0 in unported or relevant national versions, updated from time to time. The Commission should also recommend this license to all member states.
13. The Commission should study the issues in the modern European HE system round the “non commercial” restriction and make appropriate recommendations for its own programmes and for member states.
14. The Commission should support the development of technological methods to provide more and standardised information on IPR to the users of digital educational content.
15. The Commission should mount a campaign both centrally and via the member states to educate university staff on IPR issues.

Training of academics

16. The Commission should support the development of online initial and continuous professional development programmes for teachers, focussing on online learning with specific coverage of distance learning, OER, MOOCs and other forms of open educational practice, and also IPR issues.
17. The Commission should encourage member states to do this also and should recommend the use of incentive schemes for teachers engaged in online professional development of their pedagogic skills including online learning.

Further research

18. The Commission should fund research into the verifiable benefits of OER, with greater efforts to integrate such analyses with its ongoing research on distance learning, on-campus online learning, and pedagogy; and recommend the same to member states.