When talking to a number of representatives from different Austrian universities lately, it made me realise how different the Higher Education system in Austria and Germany is from the Anglo-American system. This made me wonder how transferable know-how between the systems is.
In a nutshell, the Anglo-American system is built on a highly competitive approach around employability, wider access, and student centredness (customer satisfaction). Innovations such as e-learning are seen as providing the cutting edge in this competition and are therefore an investment to future prove the institution in the market.
By contrast the Austro-German system is far more antiquated with the main aim of self-regenerating the scholarly community and intellectual elite. There are clear indications that this approach struggles in an increasingly global education market. Innovation, restructuring and investment in a future-proof system play an insignificant part which can be demonstrated both by half-hearted government intervention (via funding mechanisms) and take-up in the institutions. Initiatives are mostly carried by enthusiastic individuals and there is an evident lack of collaborative networks to promote e-learning nationally and inter-departmentally.
Transferability of experiences and know-how between the systems depends largely on the readiness of the receiving system: i.e. comparable missions and targets, and, of course, the willingness to learn from others.
The legal space is the potential hazard area of e-learning. No-one seems absolutely clear about ownership issues, least of all the (Web-publishing) public. A new report for the JISC written by my colleague John Casey gives a digestible introduction to a very complex field.
Legal ownership is in my view the biggest obstacle to reusability and the sharing of resources. It can affect internal inter-departmental reuse of materials. In my own networked institution serious partnership problems are the result (often due to the misbelief that content could be made to money and sold instead of shared for free). Copyright also blocks development of wider shared resources, national repositories, and the progress of inter-institutional developments such as e.g. Shibboleth.
Traditionally, Casey explains, HE institutions waived their rights to research and publications by their employees. But this attitude might change when it comes to new online learning materials. A good way of accommodating interests of both the institution and the employee/lecturer is to licence the material back to the developer, which takes account of lecturers’ job mobility and allows them to take their created materials into a new post without losing the institutional investment.