20 Sep 2013

Challenges and opportunities in global higher education: open access for all?

EAIE DialogueAll of us that work in international education get our fair share of challenges and opportunities. They all contribute to moving the business further, though not always in the direction we intended from the start. One of the dialogues at the recent EAIE Conference in Istanbul provided the opportunity for higher education professionals from all over the globe to discuss the current challenges and opportunities in global higher education.

One of the major changes occurring today is the open access to research findings, distance education facilitated by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and greater mobility. The speakers in the  recent EAIE dialogue were all in favour of open access but it also became clear that open access does not mean the same to everyone. National and international sharing is not the same thing.

Access to research

The visibility for researchers through an open access system is very important. There is however the issue of availability: who has access to the materials since broadband and IT availability vary greatly around the world. There is also the question of who can/should publish online, should there be a screening and if that is the case, who should do it? Would it mean that some research areas will become more visible and others less? The whole aspect of regional, national and international research and interest have a role to play in this. There is also the economic aspect of running websites to facilitate access, management of the processes, the question of who should/will pay for it and of course the reactions from the already existing publishing houses. The open access discussion took an interesting turn when one of the participants asked if maybe open access would lead to some kind of Wikipedia of research, leading to the question, for whom is open access? Is it for the researcher or for public use? Both would be preferable but in the beginning, perhaps more for the researchers.

The value of MOOCs

Access to education was next on the agenda. Everyone agreed that distance education has been here for quite some time is had not dramatically added to the availability of education. However the MOOCs have put another perspective on the situation. There is, though, still an uncertainty among higher education representatives when it comes to what they really are. There seems to be quite a number who view MOOCs as a part of the education system, raising concerns of the quality of what is being delivered, the credits to be earned and the possible impact of MOOCs on the delivery of higher education.

Well, MOOCs were intended to give the general public access to knowledge, to be used as they pleased. Very few have participated in the assessments that would give them a certificate of participation, but this does not mean that they have not made use of the knowledge they have acquired. The quality aspect is interesting because, to some extent, quality is perceived as being guaranteed by the reputations of the teachers and the institutions from which they come, which is perhaps a little naive. On the other hand, making knowledge available does not require quality control, we just need to keep an inquisitive mind.

Finally there is no doubt that the MOOCs will have an impact on how we deliver education in the future. They have opened up a completely new discussion that was very much needed. There are already variations out there like Synchronous Massive Online Courses (SMOCs) and the development will continue. The question is, will universities make use of this opportunity or will they hope it passes? It was communicated by many that blended learning in which MOOCs should feature, should be part of higher education in the future. How can MOOCs succeed in Europe? Check out our previous blog post to find out.

The possible impact on student mobility was raised and there was consensus that mobility will always exist and that it is important that people meet and experience new cultures and forms of education. There seems to be no concern that MOOCs as such will threaten campus education.

In summary, the opportunities and challenges in international higher education are still as strong and as diversified as ever. We just have to dive in and make use of them.

By Gudrun Paulsdottir, EAIE Immediate Past President