Cape Town Declaration
This desire to see the principles of open access applied to educational resources crystalised in 2007 with the publication of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration. Very much in the style of the BOAI, the Cape Town Declaration described how:
‘Educators… are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.’
The “emerging open education movement …is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customise, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint”.
The Declaration was broad in its ambition. Not only did it consider a range of materials and formats, including:
‘openly licensed course materials, lesson plans, textbooks, games, software and other materials that support teaching and learning’.
but it outlined a vision for a wider open environment for education, so:
‘open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning.’
The Declaration then went on to make a series of recommendations. Firstly, educators and learners should engage with the open education movement by ‘creating, using, adapting and improving open educational resources; embracing educational practices built around collaboration, discovery and the creation of knowledge’. Vitally, it was recommended that ‘Creating and using open resources should be considered integral to education and should be supported and rewarded accordingly.’
Secondly, there was a call for creators and rights holders to release their resources openly, shared ‘through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone.’
Finally, those in a position to enact policy – from Government through to institutions and departments – should make open education a high priority. Further, accreditation and adoption processes should give preference to open educational resources.
The declaration closed with a rallying call:
With each person or institution who makes this commitment — and with each effort to further articulate our vision — we move closer to a world of open, flexible and effective education for all.
If we think of the Cape Town Declaration as a grass-roots initiative, OERs received a powerful, more formal endorsement in 2019 when UNESCO issued a set of recommendations on OERs and set up the fabulously-named OER Dynamic Coalition. The Coalition’s purpose is to help member states in:
- building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER;
- developing supportive policy;
- encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER;
- nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER, and
- facilitating international cooperation
As we might expect – UNESCO is careful to tie their comments on OERs into their wider Strategic Development Goals. In particular, OERs are seen by UNESCO as tools that can help achieve those goals around quality education, gender equality, reducing inequalities, and enhancement of science and innovation. As many UK universities have also committed to these goals it is interesting to think about how advocacy for OERs in this country might be aligned with into those institutional aspirations.
We can think of the Cape Town Declaration and the UNESCO recommendations as bookending over a decade’s worth of activity on OERs, moving from the grass-roots to the established. In that time (and since) there have been and range of activities to progress OERs, including in both the US and Europe.
When thinking about OERs in the US it is worth extending our view to look at the wider context. The question of the cost of higher education in the States has become increasingly political over the years. A recent article in the Guardian reported that 45 million Americans owe a collective $1.7 trillion in student debt. A figure that has more than tripled in the last 16 years. When the tuition for a one-year Library Sciences Masters degree at a US university can be larger than the annual salary for a graduate’s first post-degree library job the burden of debt can be significant. We now see President Biden talking about some level of debt relief, or forgiveness, for some graduates. The debate is happening – it is a discussion at the highest level
But within this $1.7 trillion problem there is a smaller problem where politicians at the Federal and State level feel that they can make a difference – textbooks. The issue of high-costs textbooks – and their doubling in price since 2000 – has been framed as part of the wider unaffordability of higher education.
There is a range of policy responses. A number of US States have set up studies to look at the issues of OERs, others have task forces or councils to move OERs forward. At the sherif event we heard from Nicole Allen from SPARC, a body that extensively monitors activity in North America around OERs.
But more importantly than policy, perhaps, is the fact that money is being allocated for OERs. Sometimes at the State level, as an example, between 2015 and 2017 North Dakota allocated $100,000 to the State’s university system for grants ‘to faculty who created, adapted, and adopted OER to save students money on textbooks’. An audit suggested that students had saved 10-20 times the original investment in just two years.
Sometimes it is at the Federal level, with the US Department of Education which has run an Open Textbooks Pilot Program for the past few years, with funds of $7million available in 2021.
One of the most remarkable recent initiatives was launched last summer when it was announced that California was investing $115 million into expanding their Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) degrees pilot for students at the State’s 116 community colleges. These colleges form the largest higher education system in the US and the aim of the ZTV model is
“…to replace conventional textbooks with open educational resources and other no-cost materials in an entire degree or certificate program, so that students have a path to graduation clear of textbook costs.”
This scheme has two notable features. The first is that based on an earlier pilot, it is estimated that the scheme could save students up to a billion dollars a year in costs. The potential return on investment is staggering.
The second is an identification that new technology has embedded publishers in the pedagogical process in a way that wasn’t possible in the world of print. As described:
“The publishing industry is inventing new ways to extract money from students, from striking deals to automatically bill students for textbook fees to selling access codes that students need to earn a portion of their grade”.
So, not only are the costs increasing, but publishers are ensuring that they are making the purchase of their products mandatory. The move to OERs breaks that dependency.
[As an aside, that creation of a direct relationship between the publisher and the student is particularly concerning for a couple of reasons. It shifts the publisher from a content provider to a key player in education and allows them to indulge in the types of Surveillance Capitalism so worryingly described by Shoshana Zuboff. Are we content that a publisher knows which student has read which chapters and texts and may have a hand in assessment and grading?
Secondly, it bypasses the library, diminishing our role as providers of texts. Now, we may be content with that, but I think that a shift of that nature needs to be a conscious, mindful decision – not a gradual drift away from one of our traditional roles.]
Just as SPARC has monitored and supported developments in OERs in the US, so its sister organisation SPARC Europe has played a similar role in Europe. SPARC Europe has set up the European Network of Open Education Librarians, with the aim to build capacity around OERs. Representing 27 European countries, there are 110 members, including 12 in the UK and 10 in Ireland.
SPARC Europe also publishes an annual survey on Open Education across Europe and there are a couple of points that I would pick up from the most recent report published in November of last year.
One question the survey asked was whether institutions have created taskforces to support OERs. While some have set them up at the institutional level, respondents reported that it is more likely that any taskforce for OERs within an institution sits within the library. Does this suggest that interest in OERs is more library-driven than academic-driven? This may reflect the early-stage nature of discussions around OERs and the fact that libraries are at the sharp end of textbook pricing issues. And libraries will act as advocates to the rest of the institution – acting as OER Ambassadors. But it is an open question whether the library is the correct node of influence and activity if we are looking for a fundamental shift in behaviour by lecturers and students…
The second point of interest is around funding. The survey asked about the existence of grants to support the creation and adoption of OERs. Only twelve out of 133 respondents said ‘yes’, they knew of grants that were available. Now, this is a survey of libraries and librarians – it may be that there are grants available to lecturers and teachers that the survey is missing. But this response feels very different to the types of funding we have seen are available in the US.
So, where are we with OERs in the UK? The first thing to say is that there has been a lot of work done on OERs over the past ten to fifteen years.
A number of universities put in place institutional OER policies. An example (at random) is that of Leeds University, which was first published in 2012 and updated in 2017. The policy states the university’s position as:
The University encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, provided that resources used are fit-for-purpose and relevant.
The policy sets out the ways in which any OERs created must but ‘fit-for-purpose and relevant’, comply with university guidelines (such as on inclusivity), not contravene anybody else’s intellectual property, and outlines the type of licence that should be used.
Secondly, there was a huge amount of resources provided by Jisc including a very good guide to OERs covering their production, use and reuse, licensing, discoverability. But I note that their big push for OERs was written in 2010, updated in 2014, and archived in 2016. Jisc also developed an App and Resource store, which was a successor to JORUM. But the Store was archived in July 2018.
I think it is fair to say, and I am happy to be corrected, that the community take-up was disappointing and didn’t reflect the amount of thought and effort that had gone into producing the resources made available by Jisc at that time.
Overall, we might take from this that there was a flurry of activity in the 2010s, a lot of work was done to think about OERs and how we in the UK could embrace them and some institutional policies were published – but that ultimately the spark didn’t take and the fire rather died out. A potentially slightly depressing story.