Effective open licensing policy and
practice for Australian universities

110 million students enrolled in Australian MOOCs by 2025?

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  • May 9, 2016

The development of OER and MOOCs in Australia has been slower than in similar countries, one possible explanation for this is the more restrictive copyright regime. The OEL Project aims to assist Australian Universities to compete internationally by developing a toolkit which will clarify issues around copyright and openness in open online education. Many Australian universities have experimented with offering online courses freely, but the complexities and costs around the licensing of content make this more difficult than in other jurisdictions.

In this context the Austrade plan reported on by the Australian Financial Review (Access may be restricted to subscribers) that includes a ‘target’ of 110 million students enrolled in Australian MOOCs by 2025 seems quite ambitious.

The 110 million student goal, equivalent to 21,900 per cent growth, assumes Australian educators would aggressively market online education – so-called massive open online courses, or MOOCs – worldwide. These short courses are easy to access and are cheap, with prices ranging from several hundred dollars.

The reporting, and the Austrade report it is based on does not mention that although MOOCs often have high total enrolments, the number of students prepared to pay for accreditation is lower and  while access to course content is generally free for students, the high quality of support materials and the associated licensing demanded remains relatively expensive for universities. Although widely known platforms such as Coursera and EdX have grown significantly they are still in the process of developing business models that are sustainable.
The Austrade report states that:
International education is currently one of Australia’s top service exports, valued at $19.65 billion in 2015 (including fees and associated expenditure) and supports over 130,000 jobs in cities and regions throughout Australia.

Australia should be pursuing ambitious goals around the provision of online access to high quality educational resources. Clarifying the copyright and licensing issues for universities through an easy to use toolkit will assist in this. The narrow focus of the report on adding revenue ignores the potentials of open licensing to improve access to education for millions of future students and to help lower costs for institutions offering online courses globally from Australia. It also ignores the real barriers for Australian institutions wanting to compete with their international peers under Australia’s current copyright framework.