Doing the numbers - The economic imperative for OERTen and OERu to lead the way

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Key points
  • Message posted to the OERu list on 25 May 2011
  • Summary of the economic imperative for the OERu concept to address future demand for post-secondary provision
  • Introduction for the OER Tertiary Education Network

I promised a brief update on the OER Tertiary Education Network and next steps working towards the implementation of the OERu concept. We need your help in recruiting institutions from around the world to join our network -- more information below.

The economic imperatives for successful implementation of the OERu are clear (With apology for the long post referencing some of the numbers).

Clearly the existing models of provision cannot respond to the projected demand for post-secondary education. Moreover, these models are too expensive to scale and sustain. However, though collaboration networks and openly licensed learning materials the OERu concept will provide free learning opportunities to all students worldwide with a sustainable model for assessment services and awarding credible qualifications.

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. A few points about this new network:

  • 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:
  • 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.
  • We are 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.

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.

I envisage a few busy weeks in preparation for the first planning meeting of OERTen anchor partners.

Have we missed anything? What else do we need to consider over the next few weeks? Ideas, and suggestions welcome.

Exciting times! 2011 is turning out to be a quantum shift year for the mainstream adoption of OER.

Cheers Wayne