Open Education Policy at Universia

Interview with Pedro Aranzadi, Universia, Managing Director of Universia Spain, Chief Open Knowledge Officer and OpenCourseWare Director Universia Holding.

Pedro AranzadiThis 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 Pedro Aranzadi shares his experience regarding open policies in a university consortium. Special attention is paid to ensuring buy-in from members, and the relation between business models and ideology.

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

Can you start out by telling us something about Universia’s commitment to Open Educational Resources?

We were inspired by MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative in 2001. However, the MIT courses catered primarily to an English speaking audience, whereas Universia has a strong focus on the Spanish and Portuguese speaking population. This was basically the starting point for Universia; we were supportive of OpenCourseWare and identified a need for Spanish and Portuguese OER, so we started translating OpenCourseWare. From there we progressed to help over 100 universities from 12 countries to join the Open Course Ware Consortium, and they have published over 3.000 courses so far.

Did this lead you to formulate a specific policy on OER within Universia?

Well, the specifics of Universia as an organisation make it difficult to issue a binding policy. We are an umbrella organisation for the universities that are part of Universia, and provide member services to them. This makes it impossible to implement a binding top-down policy, and this has also never been our aim. Instead we set out to create awareness among our members and made sure we could facilitate those who wanted to contribute in sharing their knowledge. By creating awareness, facilitating processes and encouraging members to share their knowledge, we managed to grow our OpenCourseWare and have our members join the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

Did your members come across any national policies that got in the way of openly sharing their knowledge?

No, I haven’t heard from any of our members that they were experiencing problems in that respect. It’s mainly the teaching staff that needed to be convinced,which at times took some effort. However, in Spain, for example, the support is really high, and our contributing members get recognition from the ministry of education on this, which provides further encouragement. We support this by making sure their efforts are acknowledged in the media and through our website.

When you set out on promoting the open sharing of knowledge within Universia did you also consider a business model regarding OpenCourseWare and other Open Educational Resources?

Personally I feel that everything needs a business model in order to be sustainable in the long term. However, where it concerns OpenCourseWare we are still figuring out the business model. Universia is now also looking into MOOCs, which we are running on our own platform. We feel MOOCs are going to be important in the future and might have a profitable business model. We have about 20-30 courses that might generate some financial spin-off, or might bring in some funds from the sale of certificates. However, our MOOCs are still in a research phase, also in terms of the possible business models. The MOOC’s also have a slightly different philosophy compared to OpenCourseWare. They are only open in terms of free access (free of charge).  There are also other factors in play, for example, we now only have courses in Spanish and Portuguese while at the moment some of our members are also considering publishing open courses in English.

Is there anything you want to share with your colleagues who are in the process of setting up open policies and creating awareness on the topic?

From my experience with Universia I think the perception people have on the initiative you are trying to involve them in is a key factor, and the way in which you approach them should keep that in mind. For example, the business model we just discussed was not deemed very important when we started OpenCourseWare; it was an altruistic endeavour and those members who joined weren’t very interested in the money. For MOOCs, however, there was talk of a business model right from the start. When the financial model becomes a factor it is a lot harder to convince people to join. You could even say that money was a deterrent in this case.  This shows that the way in which you try to generate buy-in, through altruism or a financial motive, is an important factor.

Any other advice?

When trying to convince people of your cause, be patient.


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


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