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The Role of Policy in Open Education

This blog post has been written to meet the requirements of the course OPEN9600, Open Education Policy and Leadership, as part of the Professional Program in Open Education offered at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The open education movement is propelled by various recommendations. For example, UNESCO published its Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER) in 2019, and more locally to me, the University of Ottawa share the Report and Recommendations for Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiatives and Affordable Alternatives at uOttawa in 2021. Despite these recommendations, we still see few policies put in place for the tangible implementation of those recommendations. That brings the question, are recommendations enough to activate changes in education cultures and practices?

While policies are procedures to comply with, which, honestly, we don’t always appreciate in the context of higher education where some of us have academic freedom, I think they have an important role to play in open education awareness and adoption. Without those policies, we won’t see substantial changes in higher education practices in the short and medium term.

While reviewing the literature on the topic, and browsing online to find policies on open education, we realize that most policy guidelines are about OERs, and less about open education or open educational practices (OEP). Atenas et al. (2019) suggest that these OER policies are often treated in isolation or in parallel with the wider education sectors and their social and economic contexts (p. 168).

An example of a policy in application is the Open Educational Resources (OER) Policy (2022) from The University of the Highlands and Islands, in Scotland. Their policy is intended “to support staff and students across the university in the use, reuse and sharing of OERs to enhance learning and teaching within [their] context as a geographically and digitally dispersed institution, promoting education for all, sustainability in the curriculum and contributing to the health, economic and cultural wellbeing of the global community” (p. 2), and to “to encourage equality and diversity in the curriculum through greater transparency of content and processes” (p. 3). While many elements of this OER policy evoke open education in general, such as transparency, community, and sustainability, the focus is really on OERs and their usage and creation.

One interesting aspect of this policy, which can be read in its entirety online, is the focus on their local context, a geographically and digitally dispersed institution, which I think is fundamental to a successful policy. For example, my institution is officially bilingual, and an OE policy should address this context and the barriers and opportunities it can bring to the implementation of such a policy. Cox & Trotter (2016) suggest that the institutional culture and local context are at the basis of OER or open education policies.

Knowing that a policy could mandate practitioners to integrate OER and OEP in their teaching and learning practice, a guiding document is not enough for sustainable changes at an institution. This is an important investment in faculty training and professional development to rethink postsecondary education in a digital, highly technological, and globally open environment. Without support from the education system and peers, it can be difficult for an educator to embrace open education. It is therefore important that the open education movement be joined with patience and perseverance, and that all stakeholders, such as higher education administrators, professors, and even governments, support the principles of this movement and policy and be active participants as well.


Atenas, J., Havemann, L., Nascimbeni, F., Villar-Onrubia, D., & Orlic, D. (2019). Fostering Openness in Education : Considerations for Sustainable Policy-Making. Open Praxis, 11(2), Article 2.

Cox, G., & Trotter, H. (2016). Institutional Culture and OER Policy : How Structure, Culture, and Agency Mediate OER Policy Potential in South African Universities. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 17(5).

Open & Affordable Learning Materials Working Group. (2021, March). Report and Recommendations for Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiatives and Affordable

UNESCO. (2019, November 25). Recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER).

University of the Highlands and Islands. (2022). Open Educational Resources (OER) Policy.


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