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Welsh universities sign declaration of intent embedding Open Education at the heart of their strategies

The recent Declaration from Welsh HEIs of their intent to move towards openness places Wales at the forefront of Open Education (OE) developments as the first nation to fully embed OE within a national strategy.

The Declaration is a very welcome and timely development for OE in the UK and globally. It demonstrates clearly that vice-chancellors in Wales believe that OE has the potential to raise the profile of higher education (HE) in Wales and promote it to a global audience as a means of attracting and retaining talent, be it students or from the academic and research communities.

The completion of the UK Open Educational Resources programme (UKOER) in 2012 and the raft of fees and funding changes in the UK HE sector in recent years led some to fear that the open agenda would be forgotten. Some feared that as competition amongst universities increases, a protectionist attitude to resources and teaching and learning content would develop. However quite the opposite has happened and a number of OE activities have emerged and strengthened in the last few months. Indeed, Scottish Qualifications Authority has just launched a project investigating the use of Mozilla’s Open Badges to ‘enable greater flexibility for learners to demonstrate their achievements’, while the Association for Learning Technologists have just launched the OE Special Interest Group reviving and maintaining the OE community post-UKOER.

Universities are engaging with OE across the UK, and the University of Northampton has recently launched their Open Northampton project looking to ‘put Northampton on the global open educational resources map within 24 months’ and Kingston University has recently embarked on a drive to exploit OER to supplement and enhance their learning experience.

The UK nations are not alone in their OE endeavours. The European Commission has recently launched ‘Open Education Europa – the gateway to European innovative learning’, a repository of OER and MOOCs materials from across Europe presented as a coherent resource for the region.

Universities across Wales engaged in the UKOER programme across all three years and as a result there is a pool of experience and expertise at the disposal of this initiative. One of the strengths of this activity will be the knowledge and practice that already exists and those individuals will inevitably be called upon to help spread the OE word to their colleagues within their own institutions but also nationally. This Declaration provides an opportunity for the Welsh sector to contribute to the research questions raised by the UKOER final report and many others. The value of Open Educational Resources (OER) in generating interest and recruitment to courses, the levels of OER re-use, and the level of interest from lifelong learners in OER would all contribute significantly to the discussion and research basis for Open Education.

The Declaration and commitment that comes with it demonstrates that far from being side-lined and archived as another great idea that failed, OE is undergoing a revival as more and more organisations, funding agencies and governments understand the potential for change that it offers. Wales is leading this renaissance.

Alex Fenlon
Academic Development Officer – Online Learning
Higher Education Academy