How can governments support Higher Education in using and creating OER?


The roles of governments in higher education and the relationships of governments with institutions in this sector vary widely from country to country. However, governments can usually play an important role in setting policies for higher education systems. They have an interest in ensuring that public investments in higher education make a useful and cost-effective contribution to socio-economic development. Most governments also support some universities financially.

In this context, governments are often in a position to require that educationally useful material developed with public funds be made available under open licences. While there may sometimes be reasons for not requiring open licensing, the sharing of educational materials has significant potential to improve the quality, transparency and accessibility of higher education systems.

Likewise, governments can use open licensing regimes to increase the leverage of public investments, by facilitating widespread reuse of those resources with minimal additional investment.

In this context, it is suggested that governments:

  • Support the use of OER through their policy-making role in higher education.
    This could include encouraging and supporting the use of OER in adapting learning experiences to a greater diversity of learners and supporting national social-inclusion agendas. In this way, it would be possible to encourage equitable access to higher education and improve learning outcomes for all learners. Sustainability of this endeavour might be encouraged by setting up a government programme of support for OER creation and reuse.

  • Consider adopting open licensing frameworks.
    One effective way to accelerate open licensing and the sharing of higher education resources would be to adopt, within policy frameworks, an appropriate national open licensing framework. This might form part of an overarching policy framework on intellectual property rights (IPR) and copyright in higher education that spans both research and teaching activities. Such a licensing framework could also cover the copyright and IPR status of educational materials produced by government departments and agencies.

  • Consider adopting open standards.
    Linked to the above could be the adoption of appropriate open standards. The purpose would be to ensure full access to and use/sharing of resources in higher education. This could span both research and educational publications, serving to ensure the perpetuity of editable electronic documents, regardless of changes to software. Such standards could cover educational materials produced by government departments and agencies and by institutions receiving government support for developing educational resources.

  • Contribute to raising awareness of key OER issues.
    This could include the development and sharing of case studies of good practice and relevant examples of use to support implementation efforts. Governments can assist higher education stakeholders to understand issues surrounding IPR, as well as how IPR are being challenged and reshaped by the rapid digitisation and online sharing of information and resources.

  • Promote national ICT/connectivity strategies.
    Given the centrality of ICT to accessing and sharing content online, such support could focus on ensuring sustained provision of connectivity and staff/student access to ICT within higher education systems.

  • Support the sustainable development and sharing of quality learning materials.
    Key to the sustainable development and use of OER will be supporting higher education institutions, individually and collectively, in their efforts to produce and share high quality educational resources. This could include support for national initiatives to develop local content and regional/global efforts to develop OER repositories and directories, as well as fostering mechanisms to promote quality in OER. There is no single strategy that will work for every context, but a coordinated approach would likely yield the best results.

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UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (2015). Guidelines for Open Educational Resources (OER) in higher education. Retrieved from