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Online and free, the real education revolution accelerates

10 July 2012

This article first appeared in The Australian on 03 June 2012

FOUR university students could graduate for the price of one, under a new “try before you buy” online education program, University of Southern Queensland Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas unveiled in India today.

Through the Open Education Resource University students will not need to buy textbooks, incur a HECs debt, or pay for journal access.

Addressing the World Education Congress, Professor Thomas said students could access all course content for free and would only be charged if they sat exams.

“The big difference is they won’t pay any fees until they want to be assessed,” Professor Thomas said.

“And when they are assessed we estimate it will be 20 to 25% of a full course fee – they will effectively save thousands, and we anticipate four students will be able to graduate for the price of one. It might even be five for the price of one.”

USQ is a founding partner in the OER university, which will be run via WikiEducator. The prototype will be launched within three months, and the full program in 2013.

“We need to do things differently and this is a way of making the most of economies of scale that are available through online education,” Professor Thomas said.

“The number of higher education students is expected to double in the next 10 to 20 years. India is touted to need nearly 2400 additional university in the next 25 years – or roughly two new universities per week to meet its demands for graduates.

“Even if this estimate is a wild exaggeration, we need new paradigms for educational delivery that allow us to cope with the astronomical growth projected.”

The Open Education Resource University involves 15 teaching institutions, from six different countries, including the Empire State College, in New York; Athabasca University in Canada; and the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Under the program each institution will offer a minimum of two courses, giving students the ability to complete the required 24 credits for a full degree, online. They will also gain access to a panel of international academic volunteers, who will provide free tutorial support to assist with their online learning.

While some details of the program are yet to be finalised, students may also be able to transfer to mainstream degrees, and gain cross-credits across different institutions.


Professor Thomas said the Open Education Resource University did not undermine ‘traditional’ learning, or threaten mainstream degree programs.

“This will supplement rather than replace mainstream learning” she said. “We don’t imagine we’ll be offering a Bachelor of Business or Engineering, rather students will be able to gain credit and advanced standing into the degree.”

She said the program created a transition opportunity for students who not only lacked funds to pay fees, or accrue a HECs debt, but that lacked the confidence to attend or take part in traditional learning methods.

“We are challenging the mainstream business model for education,” Professor Thomas said. “And we are removing cost as the major barrier to learning, opening the door to students from a variety of backgrounds, including stay-at-home mothers, students from third world countries, and so on.

“Conscientious students could in effect receive credits for University degrees before they have even left high school.”

USQ would offer a course in Regional Relations in Asia and the Pacific as one of its two courses, with the second yet to be announced.

“All of the universities involved with the program had extensive experience with distance and online education, so we know it can work,” Professor Thomas said.
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