Open Education Policy at the University of Barcelona

Interview with Ignasi Labastida, Chief of The office of knowledge dissemination at the University of Barcelona and public leader of Creative Commons Spain.

This interview is part of a series on best practice examples in the area of Open Policy in Higher Education. Practitioners share their experiences on formulating, implementing and integrating Open Policy and Practice at their respective institutions.

In the following interview Ignasi Labastida shares his experience as chief of knowledge dissemination with us. Special attention is paid to the institutional policy and support and embedding open activities in the university, as well as advice on how to link open education to open acces policy.

Interview conducted by: Gijs Houwen, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).

Can you tell us something more about your Open Access policy, and how it relates to OER?

Our Open Access Policy has been in place since July 2011, mandated by the governing board of the university. It states that any employee of the university has to provide a copy of anything they publish to the repository within 6 months of publication.

Also we strongly encourage the sharing of OER. Even though the main focus of the repository and our policy is research, we feel that OER is also an important part of it. The policy on OER, however, is not binding. Sharing of research publications can be mandated through a binding policy, but with OER this is more difficult. Copyright is one of the issues there: a lot of universities in Spain don’t regulate the copyright on Educational Resources. Therefore it is ambiguous who owns the material, which makes it difficult to enforce a binding policy on educational resources.

How did you go about the formulation, reception and passage of the policy currently in place? What did you consider key in this process?

We set out to apply coherence within the university, but our policy was also helped by our inter-university partnerships.  From within those partnerships there was a push for open license policies within universities. These external factors were a good reason to approach the different stakeholders and show them that we need to be consistent with our partner universities. Furthermore, the University of Barcelona is also the host of Creative Commons Spain, so therefore it is also necessary to be an example: it is important to show that you ‘’practice what you preach’’.

Can we learn lessons from your Open Access policy that might apply to OER?

I think the most important lesson we have learned is that we don’t need a policy to establish sharing as a normal way of doing things. In our repository, we already have a collection called OER(in fact it is called Teaching). When someone wants to contribute OER to the repository, we inform them that anything in this collection has to be CC licensed and that they have to pick a license. It is not a binding policy – it is not formally approved in writing -, but we do request this from our contributors. Therefore, any educational or teaching material that goes online through the repository has to be under one of the CC licenses. The flexibility we provide in giving the author free choice in picking a CC license means we can reach more people. When given this flexibility, more people are inclined to share openly. So ultimately the goal is not to issue a binding policy – you might not even need one – but to get more people thinking about the sharing of resources and putting this in practice.

In which way do you think accumulating support and forming coalitions both within and outside of the institutions should be addressed?

It is vital to have someone on the board to support you; they can help you gain further institutional and academic support. Of course when we set out to formulate a policy, there were concerns, for example, if these policies would limit the journals our researchers could publish in. With the support of the vice-rector, we set out to show that these limitations were not very pressing. We also allow for exceptions, for instance when a journal does not allow open publication we don’t enforce it. We do add it to our repository just so that we have it on record in case the journal changes its policy. Another important factor is providing funding for Open Access publishing. The main thing here is that you need to be coherent in your policies: if you want Open Access publishing this should be supported on all levels, including the financial level.

Did you encounter any legislation and licensing issues? For example, where there issues regarding specific disciplines or national policies?

We do see differences between specific disciplines. For example, in social sciences and humanities, they are more reluctant to allow derivatives compared to say, mathematics. Although we might share works that don’t allow derivatives, at least it is openly available. Also, the choice we give them creates engagement: the author has to put some thought into the way he shares his work. The open practice of others can then serve as an example that it is worthwhile to share more openly.

Where it concerns licensing on education materials there are some issues. We have recently been sued by a collecting society (a collecting society focused on the use of copyrighted print books and represents publishers and authors). The case concerned materials used in our virtual campus environment, and even though it’s only for educational purposes, the current Spanish copyright legislation does not include a general limitation for educational purposes. As a result, last September the University was fined almost 1 million Euro. We appealed to that decision and the case is still on court. This unfortunate event made the community realise the restrictive nature of the default copyright system, and that it doesn’t cater very well to the university’s needs.

This case shows that it would be easier if we would all use open content licensing instead of all rights reserved. Since the lawsuit we have seen an increase in the use of open licensing inside and outside of our virtual campus. Being open also helps in these licensing issues: if there is inappropriate re-use it might be spotted earlier, so it’s also a form of protection.

We are trying to change from all rights reserved into an open eco-system. If you want to use materials of others, you need to share as well. What we say to our staff is: if it’s good enough for the students, it’s good enough for the rest of the world. Share what you have created with everybody. We also encourage the sharing of materials and building on others, instead of producing everything themselves and then hiding it from the rest of the world.

Do you see any urgent challenges that Open Education has still to meet?

I think the case I just described shows that we need to make clear which works belong to the institution and which ones belong to the author; this is not always clear-cut. For example, regulations regarding patents are really clear: the holder of a patent is the university. With other research outputs, like a database or software, university holds also copyright if it is a product of work or scholarly activity at the university. Concerning other kinds of works that can be protected by copyright, there is a need for clarification, and we need to do this as a win-win situation. There is a balance between author interest and university interest, and we need to find the right balance so that everybody profits.

How do you feel about national policy on open education? Is there such a policy in your country and/or should there be one?

There are some national projects that encourage open education, there is a project that harvests OER and builds a repository from which it links to the original source. When universities that did not publish OER yet and were thus not part of this project saw this, they started to realise the power of open licensing. So this adds social pressure to be part of the open movement. The ministry of education also built a CC licensed repository for primary and secondary education, this motivates further use open licensing.

Catalonia also has a policy for government publications (at a minimum a Non Commercial - Non Derivatives License) so that reports, journals and pictures can be re-used. Those government publications can then be used for education resources.  This policy might eventually be expanded to education. The important thing is that this shows the Catalonian government has an open mind.

Would you like to share any important lessons learned with your colleagues who are in the process of setting up open policies and creating awareness on the topic?

It’s always good to have a policy or a framework you can refer to (a directive). This makes it easier to start open initiatives. However, there is no real need for a formal policy if you manage to engage people in common use in an informal way. It is more important to convince people of what you are trying to do and engage them, instead of enforcing open practice with a policy. There is, of course, the need for a balance. It’s good to have a back up to refer to when you are trying to establish informal norms. In the end, users will not question the policies when they are convinced of the goals the policy serves.

So for Open Education we don’t need a new policy, but we do need some clarification on intellectual property and to find a win-win situation that balances the interests of all the stakeholders.


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with the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union


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