Tertiary education is under threat in a world where uncertain political climates threaten the graduation and employment prospects of students. However, there is a silver lining in the sector which could in fact lead to more students studying towards a prosperous future. The internet.
The trigger that triggered the universities
The extent to which the political process is interfering with higher education is perhaps not being scrutinised more thoroughly than in the United Kingdom. On the 29th of March 2017, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Theresa May, successfully triggered Article 50; the UK is officially on its way out of the European Union.
The two year long departure from the European Union will have negative consequences for higher education, the students, researchers and lecturers within it, experts say. They believe an isolationist government with isolationist policies may have unexpected outcomes for higher education. According to Universities UK, “Our future relationship with the EU has clear implications for universities in the UK.”
According to the group, being part of the EU had benefits: £1.2 billion in research funding, access to European Research Council grants and access to international research resources. These are very specific examples of what is likely to be forfeited with Brexit.
Overcoming borders and brick-and-mortar
Simultaneously, however, it is a time when opportunities abound. Countries with a robust education sector can potentially extend their offerings to students based in countries where education is less effectual or is too ‘far from home’ to access.
Andreia Inamorato dos Santos a research fellow at the European Commission’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) delivered a keynote to European university heads at the Open Education Week 2017. She said that higher education was an important part of the political agenda.
She reported that European Union member states had to become technologically literate in higher education institutions. Through this, the EU wants to make education and training more accessible than ever. “It is one of the six new priorities for education and training for 2020,” she told the university heads. The European Commission wants to ensure Open Education becomes a reality.
What is open education?
Is it MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), is it completely free access?
Dos Santos admits that whenever you ask what open education is, you’re going to get a lot of different answers to the same question.
They define open education with what they call an ‘umbrella term’; all forms of open education fall under it. Their definition is:
A mode of realizing education, often enabled by digital technologies; aiming to widen access and participation to everyone by removing barriers and making learning accessible, abundant, customisable for all. It offers multiple ways of teaching and learning, building and sharing knowledge, as well as a variety of access routes to formal and non-formal education, bridging them.”
Digital technology transforms and modernizes education. For the United Kingdom, it could help overcome some of the barriers that are feared Brexit will build. It does, however, require a shift in attitude and approach.
“A lack of a strategy makes open education a bit more difficult,” dos Santos said.
Instead of isolated practices, universities should help open education up, Dos Santos said. And she maintains that that this requires planning, putting effective strategies into place.
The Commission has set their project in motion, naming it the ‘Opening up education framework’, for already existing universities. The universities are encouraged to build strategies which make learning and training more progressive than ever. This thrust will inevitably include building already established online education and training platforms into on-campus universities. Thereby, allowing students - through the ‘opening’ of education - from around the world, to enjoy the same curricula as students in thriving European nations.
"Article 50: What Do Universities Want from Brexit Talks?" Times Higher Education (THE). 31 Mar. 2017. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.
"Opening Keynote - Andreia Inamorato Dos Santos (IS Unit, European Commission)." YouTube. YouTube, 12 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.