Open Courseware Futures: Creating a Parallel Universe

December 2, 2007

Introduction: From Elite to Mass Higher Education
A recent special edition of International Higher Education focused on the demographic trends associated with the emerging universal aspiration for access to higher education, and associated projections that global student numbers will almost double to reach 160 million by 2025 (Klemencic, M. & Fried, J 2007). In a similar vein, Alex Usher (2007) of the Educational Policy Institute predicted that at current rates of world wide growth, the number of students in post-secondary education will more than double in less than ten years. The fact that the present conventional classroom-based approaches to teaching and learning will not be capable of meeting the escalating demand for higher education in the knowledge society represents a major leadership challenge. As Daniel, Kanwar and Uvalić-Trumbić recently highlighted, it is not economically viable to continue to build more universities: “India alone would need nearly 2,400 additional universities in the next 25 years – or roughly two new universities per week” (2007). It is yet to be widely acknowledged that in both developed and developing countries, the Internet will provide the only viable cost-effective means to provide sustainable access to education and training opportunities. In many countries, the present lack of infrastructure embodied in discussions of the “Digital Divide” is of course a complex mediating factor, but even where potential students have access to the Internet, the vast majority cannot afford the high fees necessary to gain access to courses, assessment and accreditation. In effect, there exists not only a digital divide, but also a financial exclusion divide.

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