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Economic imperatives for new educational models: the case for OERu

by Wayne Mackintosh

The OER university concept aims to create a parallel learning universe based solely on OER to augment and add value to the formal education sector. Learners may choose to enrol at formal education institutions in the traditional way or participate in free learning provided through the OER university network. Assessment and credential services will be provided by participating institutions on a cost-recovery basis or may be funded through scholarships or grants from the respective Ministries of Education.  See the OERu logic model.

Existing models of post-secondary provision cannot realistically meet future demand

UNESCO’s world conference on Higher Education projects that post-secondary education will need to provide places for an additional 98 million learners over the next 15 years. Stated differently, this would require “require more than four major universities (30,000 students) to open every week for the next fifteen years”. (Daniel 2011.) Realistically, this is not going happen, however projects like the OER university can leverage existing assets to respond to the challenge.

The OERu could provide free learning opportunities to +650,000 learners per annum

Speaking conservatively, if the OER university were to provide learning opportunities for only 10% of the projected additional demand for post-secondary education — that would amount to an enrolment of + 653,000 learners per annum for the next 15 years. This provides a sustainable base to ensure operational costs for institutions participating in the OERu network because the recurrent institutional costs for assessment and credentialing services for OERu learners will be provided on a cost-recovery basis. Of course the OERu model is scalable and will definitely be able to provide learning opportunities for more than 10% of the projected demand.

The traditional model is too expensive and too inefficient to scale for meeting the additional demand

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:

  1. the marginal cost of replicating digital learning materials is near zero, and
  2. 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.

Introducing the OER Tertiary Education Network (OERTen)

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 OERTen is international and will facilitate cross border and transnational accreditation models.  For more on OERTen, see this post.

OERTen working agenda and immediate priorities

  • Recruit a critical mass of founding anchor partners for the OERTen. We are aiming to achieve 10 participating institutions. You can help by encouraging your own institutions to join the network. Feel free to distribute our information sheet: 5 Things you should know about the OER university network plan to help us achieve a critical mass of anchor partners.
  • 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 we will commence with discussions, ideas and proposals in the wiki.
  • Commence work on developing and structuring the planning process. Over the next few weeks will will commence work in the wiki to facilitate the planning process including time lines, priority sub-projects / activities for the different initiatives in the logic model etc.

You can find out more at the OER University’s wiki.