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Fostering Government Support for Open Educational Resources (OER) Internationally (Sir John Daniel)

Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer

During the four months before I step down from the presidency of COL I shall devote considerable time to directing the project in the title. It is a joint initiative of COL and UNESCO, partly supported by a grant to COL from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. I shall refer regularly to this work in the blogs ahead, so some background may be helpful. The project is a bridge between two activities that grew from the conclusion we came to from observing the development of OER over recent years.

The observation, articulated at the 2009 World Conference on Higher Education and reinforced at UNESCO's General Conference later that year, was that if OER are to join the mainstream of educational practice, awareness of their importance has to be extended well beyond the existing community of OER users, vibrant though it is.

We concluded that the key missing step is to alert governments and institutional decision makers to the potential of OER for helping them use public funds more efficiently to extend and improve education at all levels.

UNESCO and COL jointly undertook a first activity under the banner 'Taking OER Beyond the OER Community: Policy and Capacity for Developing Countries'. We held eight workshops for educational decision makers in Africa and Asia in 2010 and 2011 and this year, following the advice of a policy forum with governments held in Paris in December 2010, we have produced two documents, A Basic Guide to OER and Guidelines for OER in Higher Education.

The second activity is the World OER Congress that UNESCO is organising from 20-22 June 2012 in Paris.

The project 'Fostering Governmental Support for Open Educational Resources (OER) Internationally' is a bridge between our earlier awareness-raising work and the World OER Congress. It will focus on government policy makers with the aim of: 1) alerting them to the policy importance of OER; 2) encouraging them to develop policies on OER for their countries; and 3) gathering support for a Declaration on OER at the June World OER Congress.

The project has two key components. The first is a survey of all the world's governments. COL, UNESCO and the OECD have joined forces for this purpose. COL has sent out a questionnaire to Commonwealth governments to which a quarter of them have already responded. UNESCO is sending a similar questionnaire for its member states.

Questionnaire surveys are useful but somewhat abstract. To demonstrate the reality of OER and promote dialogue about their usefulness the second component of the project is a series of Regional Policy Forums that will be held in each of the UNESCO Regions between now and May. The first, for the Caribbean, is scheduled for 24-26 January in Barbados. These events will profile local institutions and individuals that are using OER to make a difference and will provide an opportunity for officials and ministers to discuss possible OER policies and debate drafts of the Declaration for the World OER Congress.

Overall guidance for the drafting of the Declaration will be given by an International Advisory and Liaison Group composed of at least one government representative of each of UNESCO's electoral groups plus certain NGOs (e.g. Creative Commons, OER Africa) and IGOs (OECD). This group had its first meeting in Paris on 19 December 2011 and will convene again in May to finalise the draft Declaration for the World Congress.

Joining me in the Management Committee for the project are: from UNESCO Janis Karklins (ADG/CI) and Qian Tang (ADG/ED); and from COL Venkataraman Balaji, Director of Technology and Knowledge Management.

The Senior Consultant to the project is Stamenka Uvalić-Trumbić, formerly Chief, Higher Education at UNESCO. Key staff members are Trudi van Wyk and Patricia Schlicht at COL and Abel Caine and Zeynep Varoglu at UNESCO.

In a recent blog Paul Stacey of BCcampus called 2011 'The Year of Open' and noted that 'open is gaining traction and acceptance'. It's too early to declare victory, for the opposition to open access is also getting organised, but we hope that this project will help to make 2012 the 'year of even more open'!

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