The OERu is smart philanthropy: interview with Wayne Mackintosh

As a member of the POERUP project team, I recently had the good fortune to interview Wayne Mackintosh, founding director of the OER Foundation and coordinator of the OERu OERu network, for a case study about this community. (For more about the POERUP case studies, please see my earlier blog post.) In this post I will share a few highlights from the interview.

Wayne Mackintosh (by Jane Nicholls: CC-BY)

Wayne Mackintosh (by Jane Nicholls: CC-BY)

The first theme that runs through the interview is the fact that the OERu is fundamentally a philanthropic initiative, and that it aims to widen participation in higher education:

The purpose of the OERu is to provide free learning opportunities for any student in the world who wants access to tertiary education, using courses which are solely based on OERs, with the option to acquire a formal assessment services from any of the OER anchor partners, which would typically be offered on a cost-recovery basis.

The second strand running through the interview is the link that Wayne makes between this philanthropic underpinning, the identity and cohesion of the OERu community, and the likely sustainability of its activities:

We are first and foremost a philanthropic collaboration. What we are aiming to do is to widen educational opportunity through the agendas of social inclusion or the missions of community service of our individual partners, and that is central to what we are doing. We are a philanthropic initiative, but it’s smart philanthropy in that the lessons learned from our members through being part of this network can be ploughed back into the mainstream delivery on their own campuses. But the core identity is one of widening access to education using OERs… One of the top reasons for our partners joining the network is one of widening access, and for us that is the core differentiator from any of the open online course initiatives that are out there. We are philanthropic and that’s the reason why we will succeed. In short, we don’t have to figure out how to pay back 20 million dollars of venture capital.

And further, on the subject of sustainability:

The OERu, since its inception, has been designed for sustainability. In terms of fiscal sustainability without reliance on third-party donor funding, we are 60% towards achieving our breakeven threshold, so we only need to recruit an additional 15 partners to be self-funding. But at that point the model becomes extremely interesting because with any additional partners above the breakeven threshold, we have money to reinvest in the commissioned development of OER university courses, and… there will be an incentive mechanism built into the system. So for example, you could have a scenario where the institutions that have completed their two-course contributions will get voting rights on where the money is spent on developing the next courses. And there’s no way that a Coursera or Udacity would be able to compete with that model economically.

Wayne’s dedication to the OERu concept filters through his every utterance, and considering the time (by his own admission, roughly 80 hours per week) and effort he clearly puts in, it was very encouraging to hear him say:

This is the most rewarding experience of my entire career. It’s a return to the core values of education and to share knowledge freely. At the heart of every educator is this passion to share knowledge; it’s [given me] the ability to share this passion. You know, working openly we can achieve great things. It’s been the most rewarding experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world!

If these few quotes have whet your appetite for more from this inspiring thought leader in open education, you can read the full transcript of the interview with Wayne Mackintosh.

Thanks again to Wayne for participating in this study.


Blog post written by Gabi Witthaus for the Institute of Learning Innovation at the University of Leicester.

CC-BY licence

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1 Comment

  1. ‘In the OERu, education is something that grows as it shares’ – an interview with Haydn Blackey | Institute of Learning Innovation Blog

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