Are MOOCs becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher ed?

Link here for the Inside Higher Ed version of this article if you need a better format for printing or sharing (e.g., via Twitter).

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Are Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) becoming mechanisms for international competition in global higher education? Where are Europe’s MOOCs in the context of the dearth of lifelong learning opportunities in the region, or both the internal and external/global dimensions of the European Higher Education Area? Who will establish the first MOOCs platform that spans the Arabic-speaking world? Are the MOOCs born in the United States (circa 2012) poised to become post-national platforms of higher ed given their cosmopolitan multilingual architects? And will my birth country of Canada ever sort out a strategy regarding MOOCs (a point also made by George Siemens), or will Canada depend on US platforms like it does in many sectors and spheres of life, for good and bad.

I couldn’t help but think about some of these questions when England’s Open University (est. 1969) announced last Thursday that it was going to establish a MOOCs platform that will be known as Futurelearn. Link here for the press release and here for some media coverage of Futurelearn. In total 12 UK-based universities will initially be associated with the Futurelearn platform:

  • University of Birmingham
  • University of Bristol
  • Cardiff University
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Exeter
  • King’s College London
  • Lancaster University
  • University of Leeds
  • Open University
  • University of Southampton
  • University of St. Andrews
  • University of Warwick

The Open University’s history is a fascinating one, and I’ve often wondered how it might react to ripple effects of the MOOCs being established by US-based people, universities and organizations. The OU clearly has the legitimacy to push forward their agenda, and will do so with some excellent partner universities (disclosure: my PhD is from Bristol), but the Futurelearn announcement also generates more opportunities for reflection on the territorial dimensions of MOOCs.

While Futurelearn won’t be up and running until 2013, it struck me how quickly it is conveying a UK-centric identity. From the line-up of universities, to the identity of the Launch CEO Simon Nelson (he is, as he puts it on his Linked in page, a “key architect of the BBC’s digital transformation to become one of the most successful and innovative multimedia operations in the world”), Futurelearn arguably comes across as a state- and university-backed vehicle to launch the UK into a transatlantic race to establish globally dominant MOOCs.

As the headline of this 14 December Times Higher Education article put it, “Open University launches British Mooc platform to rival US providers.’ The Times Higher Education article quotes from the official press here release, where the Minister for Universities and Science responsible for higher education in England, David Willetts, said:

The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for, higher education. This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China.

Futurelearn has the potential to put the UK at the heart of the technology for learning agenda by revolutionising conventional models of formal education. New online delivery tools will also create incredible opportunities for UK entrepreneurs to reach world markets by harnessing technology and innovation in the field of education. [my emphasis]

Similarly, in the same press release, Leighton Andrews AM,  Minister for Education and Skills in the Welsh Government, said:

The area of Open Educational Resources is a fast-moving field in which the power of the internet and information technology can transform access to learning globally. I have encouraged the higher education sector in Wales as a whole to engage with this in a serious way and I am delighted that this new initiative from the OU – an organisation which already has a pan-UK and global reach – takes a lead in charting an exciting path into the future from which learners in Wales will be beneficiaries. It is especially pleasing to see that the OU will be working with Cardiff University to explore new ways of providing learning opportunities that can take some of the best of HE in Wales to the world, and bring the world to learners and HE in Wales. [my emphasis]

In some ways, at least superficially, the rhetoric and coverage associated with the launch of Futurelearn is correct and the US does dominate the MOOCs landscape, to date.  This is a point I also made in last week’s entry (‘On the territorial dimensions of MOOCs‘). The three most prominent MOOCs (Coursera, edX, Udacity), to date, were born in US universities (Coursera at Stanford; edX at MIT & Harvard; Udacity at Stanford) and provide the majority of their offerings as sanctioned by US universities, and as taught by US-based university professors. As of today, here are some national dimensions to the three key MOOCs:

Udacity (est. February 2012)

  • Udacity currently offers or is advertising 19 courses, the majority taught by US-based professors. This said, not all of them are American citizens, and there are German, Dutch and Taiwanese nationals involved in several of the courses. Note that Udacity does not badge the courses with the names of the universities or organizations the instructors are associated with.

Coursera (est. April 2012)

edX (est. May 2012)

So is Futurelearn a UK (and European) riposte to the US MOOCs that are dominating the global MOOCs landscape? In some ways yes, in other ways no.

First, these US-based MOOCs are clearly considering non-US partners and indeed some, especially Coursera, already support them (including one from Australia, one from Israel, two from Canada, one from Scotland, one from England, one from the Hong Kong SAR, and one from Switzerland). École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne from Switzerland, for example, enables Coursera to reach the French-speaking learning community in Europe, Africa, Canada, and elsewhere (assuming internet access).

Second, are the US MOOCs American through and through? No. Some of the key thinkers and backers of ‘US’ MOOCs — Daphne Koller of Coursera who was born in Israel before studying and working in the US; Andrew Ng of Coursera who was born in England but educated in Hong Kong and Singapore before studying and working in the US; Sebastian Thrun of Udacity who was born in Germany before working in the US; L. Rafael Reif of MIT who was born in Venezuela before studying and working in the US — are the types of global citizens one frequently finds in universities like Stanford and MIT. Thus, while these innovators are structurally supported by the epistemic, technological and venture capital networks associated with some of the US’ most vibrant city-regions, these so-called US MOOCs have considerable post-national developmental potential depending on how their future paths are navigated.

Third, the UK is part of the European Higher Education Area and yet the Futurelearn announcement comes across as a UK-only developmental agenda. Will it eventually open up to continental European learners and partner universities? If it does not, and MOOC platforms like edX and Coursera form relationships with leading European universities like ETH Zurich, Oxford, Cambridge, LMU Munich, Sciences Po, et al, what does it mean for Futurelearn? How the Open University and Futurelearn negotiate the complicated landscape of European higher education will surely be worth watching.

Interesting times, indeed.

Kris Olds

Science and the US university: video lecture series by editor-in-chief of Science and former (1980-92) Stanford University president

The Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, is one of the more active centres of its type in North America. They sponsor an excellent working paper series (e.g., see ‘Universities, the US High Tech Advantage, and the Process of Globalization’ by John Aubrey Douglass. CSHE.8.2008 (May 2008)), workshops, seminars, and so on.

This newly posted lecture series, that the CSHE organized, should be of interest to GlobalHigherEd‘s audience. The speaker is Donald Kennedy (pictured to the left), the current editor-in-chief of Science, and former president (1980-1992) of Stanford University, amongst many other titles and responsibilities. The Clark Kerr Lecture Series on the Role of Higher Education in Society has been running since 2001.

I will paste in the CSHE summary of the Kennedy lectures below. The first two lectures were given in November 2007, while the third (and final) lecture was given in March 2008. If you click on any of the three titles you will be brought through to the UCTV site where the recorded videos can be accessed. Kris Olds

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Clark Kerr Lecture Series on the Role of Higher Education in Society sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and the Center for Studies in Higher Education

Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief, Science Magazine

Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 1: The Endless Frontier

In which President Roosevelt asks Vannevar Bush and others,-including may helpers and some revisionists, to transplant the federal governments apparatus for wartime science into the infrastructure for growth of research in the nation’s universities. The result is not what Bush originally hopes — a single Foundation responsible for all of the nation’s science — but it ushers in a period of extraordinary growth and transformation. Universities deal with the challenges of allocating and rebalancing new resources of unexpected scope, but the twenty days after war’s end resource growth flattens and new challenges appear: federal support brings more control, and a new generation has new questions about the value of science.


Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 2: Bayh-Dole and Enclosing the Frontier

In which universities, having been partly weaned from federal support, are recognizing new sources of help. Their quest is assisted by a new concern from the government: the money being spent on basic research is producing more prizes then patents. Congress finds a solution: in the Bayh-Dole Amendments of 1980 it forswears collection on intellectual property rights resulting from university research it supports. The result is a dramatic growth in academic centers devoted to patenting and licensing faculty inventions. This brings in new money, accompanied by new challenges: should the university go into business with its faculty? Can it retain equity of treatment across disciplines. Perhaps most significant, had the enclosure of the Endless Frontier created economic property rights that will change the character not only of science but of academic life?

Science and the University: An Evolutionary Tale, Part 3: Science, Security, and Control

In which science and its university proprietors confront a new set of questions. Whether in the later phases of the Cold War or in the early phases of the Terror War, universities find themselves witnessing a replay of the old battle between science, which would prefer to have everything open, and security, which would like to have some of it secret. Struggles in the early 1980′s regarding application of arms control regulations to basic data resulted in some solutions that some hoped would be permanent. But after 9/11 a host of new issues surfaced. Not limited to arms control considerations, the new concerns included the publication of data or methods that might fall into the wrong hands. At the same time, science was confronting a different kind of security problem: instead of being employed to decide policy, science was being manipulated or kept secure in order to justify preferred policy outcomes.

Cisco, KAUST, and Microsoft: hybrid offerings for global higher ed

The globalization of higher education has been going hand in hand with novel experiments in the provision of education services, as well as in the production of knowledge via R&D. These experiments have been enabled by the broad but highly uneven liberalization of regulatory systems, and spurred on by the perception (and sometimes reality) of inadequate levels of state support for higher education and research. A myriad of policies, programs and projects, of an increasingly sophisticated nature, are now bringing many of these experiments to life.

Experimentation is also being facilitated on some traditional public university campuses, with hybrid units in development (e.g., see the Oxford-Man Institute of Quantitative Finance), offers to select foreign universities to establish a formal presence on another campus (e.g., see this entry regarding the University of Warwick), and even private ‘campuses’ under construction by firms that lease space to mobile higher education service providers (e.g., see this entry on Chaska’s ‘Field of Dreams’).

Over the last few weeks a variety of examples of such institutional experimentation have bubbled up.

Cisco Systems, Inc.

First, the San Jose-based firm, Cisco Systems, Inc., announced that its Networking Academy, which has been in operation since 1997:

has achieved a key milestone with a record 47 percent increase in the total number of students enrolled in Morocco in the past 12 months. Since the program’s inception, this brings the total number of Networking Academy students over 7,500. Each student undergoes a comprehensive technology-based training curriculum that can provide them with skills which they can utilize in their future professional careers.

According to Cisco, its Networking Academy provides educational services in more than 160 countries, reaching 600,000 students per year. The Network Academy topics (e.g., LANs, IT networks, network infrastructure essentials) can be standardized in a relatively easy manner, which enables Cisco to offer the same “high-quality education, supported by online content and assessments, performance tracking, hands-on labs, and interactive learning tools”, across all 160 countries.

And growth is rapid: in Morocco, for example:

The first Networking Academy in Morocco started in Ain Bordja in February 2001, long before Cisco’s office in Morocco was established. Today, the total number of Networking Academies has grown to 39 throughout the entire Kingdom with many more new Academies across Morocco to be announced in the very near future.

Cisco’s growth in providing these education services partly reflects problems in the Moroccan higher education system (see, for example, the World Bank’s 2008 report The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa). It is noteworthy that nearly 1/3 of the students are female; a level of enrollment perceived my most analysts of the region to be significant and positive.

Further information on the Networking Academy is available in this short video clip. This initiative is akin to the Oracle Corporation‘s Oracle Academy, which has “partnered with more than 3,400 institutions and supported 397,000 students across 83 countries“. Today, coincidentally, marks the official opening of the Oracle Academy of the Hanoi University and Hanoi University of Commerce in Vietnam.

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Second, over the last week the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), an institution we have profiled several times (see here and here), announced a series of major funding initiatives that will support other universities, around the world, to develop major R&D initiatives. The logic is to kick-start the creation of KAUST’s global networks (recalling that the KAUST campus is only now being built from scratch, as one of many photographs from the KAUST website, conveys).

KAUST’s Global Research Partnership (GRP) will be funding:

So three American universities, and one UK university. Further information on these centers can be found here.

KAUST also announced that its Center-in-Development scheme (note the in development moniker) will be funding one Saudi, one Asian and one European university in the form of:

Further information on these initiatives can be located here.

Thus we have a Saudi institution, which is really an instantaneously endowed foundation (to the tune of $10 billion), projecting itself out via funded programs, and translating institutional and researcher agendas in key centres of scientific calculation (to use some Latourian phrases), so as to enable itself to morph into a globally recognized, respected, and highly networked science and technology university within five years. Moreover, KAUST is forging ties with other types of knowledge-related institutions, including the US Library of Congress, so as to:

complement its academic and research programs in cutting-edge science and engineering with research and outreach programs aimed at giving students and faculty an appreciation of the rich history of scientific inquiry and discovery in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Microsoft & Cisco

Finally, my own university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has embarked upon two initiatives that splice together the institutional fabrics of a major public university, and select private sector firms (in software and the life sciences), with both initiatives facilitated by the alumni effect (another topic we have recently written about).

In the first, Seattle-based Microsoft is contributing substantial support to help UW-Madison open the Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, which will focus on the advanced development of database systems. As the formal UW-Madison press release notes, this lab is:

helping expand on a highly productive 20-year research and alumni relationship between the company and the University of Wisconsin-Madison computer sciences department.

The Microsoft Jim Gray Systems Lab, named in honor of the Microsoft executive who was a founding father of the database industry, will open in downtown Madison under the direction of UW-Madison emeritus computer sciences professor, and Microsoft Technical Fellow, David DeWitt, one of the world leaders in database research.

“Microsoft is here because we are doing some of the best database work in the world and we have produced scores of graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the industry,” says DeWitt. “Our focus will be on continuing the production of talented graduate students and taking on some of the great challenges in database systems.”

David DeWitt (pictured above) was the John P. Morgridge Professor of Computer Sciences, though he has now taken up emeritus status to focus on this initiative. Further information on DeWitt and this scheme is available here.

And returning to the Cisco theme, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) sponsored a ground breaking ceremony last Friday for the development of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (WID), a $150 million project we briefly profiled here. WID is being developed with funding and other forms of support from UW-Madison, WARF, John and Tashia Morgridge (he is the former CEO of Cisco, while she is a former special education teacher), and the State of Wisconsin.

WID will open in 2010, though it is already in action via the efforts of WID’s interim director Marsha Mailick Selzer, and pioneer stem cell researcher, James Thomson. It is worth noting, though, that even the private component of WID (the Morgridge Institute for Research) is not-for-profit. This said the competitive impulse was loud and clear at the opening ceremony, according to the local newspaper reporter that covered the event:

The building will house an ambitious effort by the state to capture what Doyle hopes to be 10 percent of the market in regenerative medicine and stem cell technologies by 2015. The building is the centerpiece of a $750 million inititiave to develop stem cell research and biotechnology in Wisconsin.

So experiments aplenty. Fortunately, from the perspective of 7,500 Moroccan students, and UW-Madison’s researchers, Cisco Kid was a friend of mine (it’s bad, I know :)).

Kris Olds

Foreign university campuses and linkage schemes: opportunities and challenges in early 2008

The establishment of overseas/branch/foreign campuses, and substantial international university linkage schemes, continues to generate news announcements and debate.

Over the last two months, for example, Queen Margaret University in Scotland announced that it would be Singapore’s first foreign campus set up by a UK university (a fact that received little media coverage in Singapore).

The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) announced that their Singapore-based campus would be doubling in size by 2009 (a fact that received much media coverage in Singapore), while the University of Chicago’s Financial Mathematics Department announced it would establish a graduate program in Singapore, likely in association with Chicago’s Stevanovich Center for Financial Mathematics. Further details are available here.

Finally, on the Singapore front, MIT and Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) jointly announced the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre (SMART), a “complex of research centres set up by world-class research universities and corporations working collaboratively with Singapore’s research community”. As MIT describes it:

SMART is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) largest international research endeavor and the first research center of its kind located outside Cambridge, Mass. It will offer laboratories and computational facilities for research in several areas, including biomedical science, water resources and the environment, and possible additional research thrusts that encompass such topics as interactive digital media, energy, and scientific and engineering computation.

Besides serving as an intellectual hub for robust interactions between MIT and global researchers in Singapore, the SMART Centre will also provide MIT and Singapore new and unique opportunities to perform interdisciplinary experimental, computational and translational research that takes advantage of MIT’s long-standing collaborations in Singapore.

The joint press release can be downloaded here. Needless to say this was also a high profile media item in Singapore.

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that the Chicago and MIT initiatives in Singapore involve regular (versus contract) base campus faculty and researchers, reflecting core principles guiding their respective internationalization agendas. This is clearly enabled by direct and indirect Government of Singapore support, and relatively high tuition fees.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East and East Asia, the University of Calgary-Qatar (a joint venture between the University of Calgary and the Hamad Medical Corporation), and the University of Nottingham Ningbo, have both been busy searching out faculty (contract/contingent/secondment/visiting only, it seems) for their respective campuses.

nottningboroom.jpgEmployment sites always provide insights into how these types of ventures are represented, and how the transnational staffing dimension is handled, so check out what is on offer at Calgary-Qatar and Nottingham-Ningbo. I must admit, however, that the sterile curtained room on offer to three year-long contract faculty in Ningbo (photo to the left) does not exactly look appealing, exciting though China (and Ningbo) are. Perhaps they just hired a bad photographer:)

Over in Saudi Arabia the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which we have written about before, is filling media outlets like the Economist with full page advertisements for senior and mid-level administrative staff. The largesse available to KAUST, and the Singaporean influence on its development model, was also evident when it announced, incrementally in globally circulated press releases, that it was moving forward on substantial collaborative ventures, at an institutional scale, with the American University in Cairo, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Imperial College London, Institut Français du Pétrole, National University of Singapore, Stanford University, Technische Universität München, University of California, Berkeley, University of Texas at Austin, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. These are substantial and lucrative linkages, according to Changing Higher Education, with Berkeley’s Mechanical Engineering Department (the lead linkage unit at Berkeley), for example, receiving US $28 million to participate in this scheme between 2008 and 2013.

KAUST is also attempting to leapfrog in the development process by buying in individual scientific support via their Global Research Partnership (GRP) Investigator competition. This scheme, which will initially support 12 “high caliber researchers” from the “world’s leading research universities”, allows KAUST greater flexibility to target individual researchers in fields or universities that might not be enabled via institutional linkage schemes like the ones mentioned above.

kaustcampus.jpgInterestingly KAUST’s graphic design consultants have worked very hard to create a sunny high tech image for the campus, which is still being developed, though they actually have less to work with (on the ground) than does Nottingham in Ningbo, not to mention significant security concerns to plan for when foreigners (especially US citizens) are involved. It just goes to show you how much work good or bad graphics (still & video, including the fascinating five minute long campus profile below) can do in creating distinctive representations of campuses such that they might appeal to mobile faculty and researchers living outside of the host country.

And on the analytical news front, Inside Higher Ed, and the New York-based Social Science Research Council’s new Knowledge Rules blog, both posted critical articles on the overseas campus institutional development model by Andrew Ross, a professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University (NYU), a university we profiled with respect to institutional strategic issues last autumn. Finally, Inside Higher Ed provided coverage of one initiative that had California Polytechnic State University, working with Jubail University College in Saudi Arabia, to develop approximately $6 million worth of programs for Jubail’s male only student population. But, as Inside Higher Ed notes, moving forward on this initiative might rub against (in a dejure or defacto way) core elements of Cal Poly’s internal code of conduct, and the national legal system it is embedded within (in this case U.S. equal employment laws that bar discrimination). The issue was put this way:

Faculty skeptical of the project — and by some accounts there’s plenty of skepticism on campus — wonder: Will opportunities truly be equally available to all Cal Poly faculty? Would women feel they can apply for an on-site director position in a country where they, unlike their male colleagues, would be barred from driving? What about homosexual faculty? Would they see good professional options in a country where sodomy is punishable by death? What about Jewish faculty in an Islamic country without religious freedoms?

The administration says that the bulk of the work to develop the programs would likely happen on the California campus. But site visits and long-term director positions abroad would be available. And there aren’t just opportunities, but also money, at stake here: The proposed base annual salary for a senior faculty member working on the project is $180,000.

Transnational complications, indeed.

Entangling institutional infrastructures from different countries cannot help but generate some inter-cultural and institutional conflict: indeed this is sometimes the rationale for supporting the concept of overseas campuses. But the Ross articles, the Cal Poly-Saudi debate, and Amy Newhall’s entry in GlobalHigherEd last autumn (‘Liberal education venturing abroad?: American universities in the Middle East‘), are but a few reminders that much more thinking is required about the underlying forces facilitating the development of such ventures, the nature of the deliberative processes on campuses that are considering such ventures (which has been, to date, driven in a top down fashion, for good and for bad, by what I would deem administrative entrepreneurs), and the nature of the memorandum of understandings (MoUs) and legal agreements that lock in such linkage schemes (usually for a five year period, in the first instance).

The evidence, to date, suggests that there is incredible diversity in drafting overseas campus and linkage arrangements, ranging from the unsophisticated and opaque to the sophisticated and transparent. It is perhaps time for some systematic rules and guidelines to be developed by international organizations like UNESCO and the OECD (extending the UNESCO/OECD guidelines on “Quality provision in cross-border higher education”). It is also worth pondering why publicly supported institutions are not active, and indeed sometimes hostile to, the public release of relevant MoUs and legal agreements. Public release clauses could, after all, even be built into the MoUs and agreements in the first place; a “non-negotiable” item in the terms of participants at a recent American Council of Education Leadership Network on International Education meeting. One of many unfinished debates about this emerging global higher ed phenomenon…

Kris Olds