In this presentation, we will discuss findings from a series of online keyword searches carried out on UK university websites in 2015-2016. Using the most recently published Guardian University League Table (2014), searches were made on the websites of the top 10 and bottom 10 UK universities for the following keywords: “OER”, “Open Access”, “Open Content”, “MOOCs”, “Open Data” and “ Open Research” in order to find out whether there were any obvious institutional differences of awareness and promotion of these aspects of openness in higher education and research.
Judging by the evidence of the 20 university websites surveyed, by far the biggest impact of openness in the UK HE sector has been Open Access, showing the importance of government agencies in promoting accessible research (Mulder, 2009; Finch Group, 2012). However, the evidence also suggests that the impact of OER, and more recently, MOOCs, on UK HE institutions is a great deal less than it really should be. Indeed searches for “MOOCs” returned some amusing results at two London universities (“Your search didn’t return any results. Please try again. Did you mean: books?”), and (“No results found. Did you mean moots?”). Of the 20 universities whose websites we examined, Imperial College London was the only one which publicly promotes MOOCs run by other universities as a form of supplementary learning for their own students. Somebody at Imperial has clearly spotted the potential of MOOCs to encourage undergraduates to keep studying during the Long Vacation, a period in which the gains of the previous academic year can well be lost, as it promotes “5 great MOOCs for the summer”. One of the bottom 10 universities, London Metropolitan, also recommends MOOCs in one of its postgraduate research handbooks. It takes a rather more pragmatic view than Imperial College and urges researchers to take MOOCs “while they are still free”.
There is, however, sufficient optimism in the evidence so far to suggest that openness is here to stay, and that the impact on HE in the UK will gather momentum as more and more institutions realise the strategic advantage of openness in providing high-quality OERs and MOOCs to attract students and funding. The online searches also revealed that there are many dedicated individuals in some of the less OER-aware universities at both the top and bottom end of the Guardian University League table: faculty members, PhD candidates and other researchers, and technology specialists; all of whom are either deeply involved with OER or, at the very least, publicly profess an interest in OER in their web profiles.
As Smith and Casserly (2006) point out, “It takes a hardy and callous soul to reject the United Nations’ goal of education for all. We argue that one important step toward this goal is to provide high-quality digitized, free educational materials to everyone in the world.” Nevertheless, the results from this study show that there are clearly some hardy and callous souls in UK universities, some souls who are indifferent, and also, one suspects, a large number of lost souls, potential beneficiaries of OER who are currently unaware that it exists. Against this background, however, some large and many small-scale projects involving OER are in various stages of implementation across the UK’s HE sector and are in the process of being expanded.