Thursday, December 29, 2016
How Open is Australian Higher Education?
The e-book of "Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education", edited by Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss is available free in PDF and HTML. In Chapter 6 "Educational Policy and Open Educational Practice in Australian Higher Education", Adrian Stagg and Carina Bossu give a not very glowing report card. The authors note that low socio-economic background students at university increased only 1.29% from 2001 to 2014. Regional university students have fared slightly better, increasing from 15.4% (2001) to 19.3% in 2014. However, it should be noted that Stagg and Bossu do not include students in Vocational Education and Training (VET, which make up a significant part of Australian Higher Education. The VET sector has the potential to better address equity issues than universities.
Stagg and Bossu point to the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and the use of Creative Commons licenses by universities as examples of open access policies. They suggest OER policies can have benefits for institutions, such as improved reputation by showcasing educational content and techniques. However, the authors do not explain what the benefits would be for individual academics who's promotions are based on how much research and course revenue they can bring in. Some vague improvement in reputation makes a weak case compared to revenue from students paying for courses using proprietary materials.
Stagg and Bossu try to make a case for Open Education in terms of access and equity. However, they do not really make the case for openness translating into access. Also the authors fail to address the motivations of individual academics and of institutional government policy. Most of those teaching in Australian universities are on short term contracts: how will they earn a living through Open Education? The few permanent long term academics in universities also need to meet financial targets from their research and teaching. Education is a major export industry for Australia: how can this income be increased through Open Education? I suggest that Open Education will not advance by simply ignoring this reality. A case can be made for Open Education enhancing individual careers and national education exports. However, Stagg and Bossu have not made that case.