Open Access to Scholarly Educational Materials is the only way to Survive!

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson (the American-Canadian science fiction writer) William Gibson when he coined the term “cyberspace” and “the future is already here” aptly described the evolution of technologies and how the first adopters greatly benefit from these technologies while it takes years to spread in the other levels. Modern education system is a replica of what Gibson said.

The modern emerging educational system tosses over the use of expensive text books; limited access to classroom based teaching and closed research work and highlights the usage of open course materials, internet based learning procedures and provides an opportunity where everyone can access scholarly based research work so that everyone benefits from education and also connect through internet to all the people across boundaries, in different cities and countries. Distance should not be a barrier to education.

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However, out of the many countries who are adapting to this new culture of Education, Canada is still lagging behind. United Kingdom Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts regarding his country’s views on open access to publicly funded research stated “UK is committed to the principle of public access to publicly-funded research results” and that it “believes that published research material which has been publicly financed should be publicly accessible – and that principle goes well beyond the academic community.”

Willets rightly pointed out that Harvard and MIT have announced a partnership to introduce either free or low-cost, Internet-based classes to students across the globe. The current “edX” initiative comprises of $60 million (U.S.) funding from both the universities which will be offering five courses for the fall. Same kind of initiatives are taken by Stanford (13 courses online) as well as Princeton, the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania. Led by the Departments of Labor and Education, the $2 billion program offers $500 million per year for the development of openly licensed materials that must carry the Creative Commons BY license, which permits their free derivative use for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

But the same cannot be said of Canada. While UK is moving ahead with mandatory open access policies, Canada has no such plans. Though Canada, is also granting millions of dollars to different educational institutions but there is no strict order as to whether the research materials and other data will be openly accessible to all.

While several B.C. and Alberta universities are taking an initiative to invest in open study materials but in case of Canada, the situation is dicey. It needs more US based funded works. But then there is hardly any effort from the top-tier schools across the globe when it comes to offering online courses at low cost to the students of Canada. On the contrary, may schools still use the traditional model with restrictive licensing; which will hardly allow the transition of using modern technology. The future of education may be here, but Canadian Universities need to wake up to the current scenario and take proper measure to take education to the global level.

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