Two of the world’s leading international education agencies have presented Otago Polytechnic and the OER Foundation with a prestigious appointment in recognition of its leading-edge development in the tertiary education sector.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) have appointed Open Education Resource Foundation Director Dr Wayne Mackintosh with a UNESCO-COL Chair – a position that will see him champion the implementation of the Open Educational Resource university (OERu), which was launched to the world on November 2.
Founded and headquartered by the Open Education Resource Foundation (OERF) at Otago Polytechnic, the OERu is an independent, not-for-profit network that offers free online university-level courses for students worldwide; a system that is predicted to widen access to affordable tertiary education for learners excluded from the privilege of post-secondary education.
The implementation of the OERu is a designated project of the UNESCO- COL Open Educational Resources (OER) Chair network. A UNESCO-COL OER Chair is currently held at the Athabasca University in Canada, and most recently, Otago Polytechnic. A UNESCO OER Chair is held at the Open University in the Netherlands.
“The designation of a UNESCO Chair is recognition of Otago Polytechnic’s global leadership in this ground- breaking area of education,” says Elizabeth Rose, Secretary General of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.
“The National Commission supports UNESCO’s commitment to the promotion of Open Educational Resources, as a contribution to improving the quality of education worldwide, as well as the facilitation of policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building.”
UNESCO and the COL have been at the forefront of the OER movement since 2002, when the term ‘Open Educational Resources’ was adopted, with a commitment to improving the quality of education worldwide.
Anchoring partner to the OERu, Otago Polytechnic has embraced the philosophy of sharing knowledge. It was the first tertiary institution in the world to adopt a Creative Commons open content intellectual property policy.
“The UNESCO-COL Chair appointment will ensure Otago Polytechnic is at the forefront of educational innovation and reform,” says Otago Polytechnic Chief Executive, Phil Ker. “We’ve been developing opportunities in this space since we established the OER Foundation in 2009. Our philosophy is that education should be more accessible, more affordable and more efficient.”
Dr Mackintosh’s role as chair holder is to champion the OERu model and other open education networks, along with coordinating and implementing further open online courses and credentials within the OERu international network.
“This is a significant achievement for Otago Polytechnic and the Foundation,” says Dr Mackintosh. “Research from the UNESCO-COL conservatively predicts that we need to provide for an additional 100 million places in tertiary education over the next 15 years.
“Through the UNESCO-COL OER Chair network, we have a wonderful opportunity to really shift the traditional educational model so those who couldn’t access tertiary education can now do so.”
Professor Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, supports Dr Mackintosh’s philosophy for learning.
“(The) COL believes that knowledge is the common wealth of humankind and that all education content developed from public funds must be made available under open licenses so that more people are able to benefit from the initial investment.”
With access to education highlighted as an ongoing challenge for many of the Pacific Islands, the OERu is predicated to have a significant impact on the region in terms of connectivity and quality.
“The vast area of the Pacific Ocean and the geographic isolation faced by many Pacific Islands raises specific issues for education in regard to access to education, equity of opportunity, the quality, and efficiency and effectiveness of educational institutions at all levels,” says Dr Susan Vize, Acting Director at the UNESCO Office for the Pacific States.
“This partnership with Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, in collaboration with the Open Education Resource Foundation and the Commonwealth of Learning, will ensure that further research will target areas that address the further development of OERs in order to benefit Pacific Island Countries.”