The Passion of Open Education

When I was just a little girl, TV introduced me to the concept of the ‘civil servant’ through teams on quiz shows like Master Team and Busman’s Holiday. The civil servant teams were always made up of stereotypes – dull, gray men in suits. I remember thinking that it must be the worstest, dullest job to ever have and I never ever ever wanted to be one.

Well now, whilst technically not a civil servant, I’m pretty close to being one. I have found a lot of people in the sector that still fit that stereotype – basically administrators who just want to push paper and make sure that all the boxes have checks in them at the end of the day. Surprisingly, I have also found something else…I have found passion. That’s what I want to talk about today.

Recently, David Miliband has stated that “education is my passion“. I’m sorry David, but I think that by studying PPE at Oxford you made it clear that politics is your passion, although we all look with interest to see the Labour Party’s input in to the changing face of education. Education is actually OUR passion, and very rightly so.

I’ve only ever worked in a university environment, and I am aware this gives me a strange and blinkered view on the world. It’s a career path that I have very pointedly chosen because I believe in the importance of higher education. I’m also very passionate about my specific area of work at the moment, as any who has heard me talk will know, I think open standards could change the face of education as much as open access, open education resources, open data or any of the other opens 🙂

I’m worried though. Many of my contemporaries and I have worked through a period of relative prosperity for our sector, despite the slow decrease in grants and increase in tuitions fees. It’s difficult to explain to my little sister who has just started university in Swansea that at her age not only did I have my tuition fees paid but my grant covered my rent. An excellent holiday job and some careful money management meant I actually left university debt free at 21 (then ruined that by paying for a masters!).

I’m worried this prosperity has dulled our passion, and whilst we all passionately argue for our favourite flavour of open that we have forgotten the basics – the need for open education. Open education should be about making higher education as accessible as possible without financially crippling young people for life. I find it hard to understand how a graduate earning just £21,000 is supposed to pay back loans, pay rent, save for a deposit for a house, commit to a pension and try and have a life. Isn’t this a bit too much to ask?

For those of us in the sector, the increasing commercialisation of education is not going to help our open agendas. If a student is paying for their degree, they are going to want the shiniest and the best for that money. They are going to want the glossiest journals, the brightest apps, the whizziest platforms and the sense that this somehow a return on their investment. I’m not sure our agenda of share and be shared can compete in this buyer’s climate.

Open source, open data, open access, open resources all work best when the ground we are working from is open. If we don’t fight for open education, where does that leave our work?