Public funding, OER, and Academics – a brief reflection

Earlier today Amber Thomas kicked off an interesting discussion on twitter about which institutions had a reputation for openness in various domains. One tangential thread from this conversation was a comment Pat Lockley made about the difference between openness that happens in connection to funded projects and openness that happens at your own initiative. I think Pat has a point but also think there are differences between models that work for individuals and models that work for institutions.

I’ll reproduce some of the conversation here, as it raises some issues.

Pat: my take is, if it’s done off your own back, it’s open, else it’s just “of kernes and gallowglasses supplied”

Me: there’s a place for funded stuff & sustainable open models rely on a source of funding; paying for related services/ expertise

Pat: it’s a very broad brush to say “sustainable open models rely on a source of funding”

Me: eg in open source many coders can contribute to projects in spare time because they have skills that earn them enough money

Pat: but thats true internally and externally. An academic is paid, if once paid, open, then everything can be open?

Me: in my view? yes; in uk -uni’s publicly funded; academics are public employees; ~our work should be openly available (exceptions)

Me: though if such an economy i think academics currently undervalued/ under paid [nb: ~well paid; but underpaid for ‘market value’]

Pat thought I was a bit off track to suggest academics aren’t paid enough, so i tried to clarify a bit

Me: NB academics well paid but i’m suggesting MAY be underpaid for required length of time in unpaid education to get job…. [1/2]

Me: …& comparable commercial salary for level of education. In context of: OER & seeing themselves as public employees [2/2]

Obviously there are assumptions, cross purposes, and missing context in my part of our exchange but I wanted to capture it to think about some more.

For ‘fun’ I’ve been thinking a little with a colleague at Strathclyde (Stuart Boon) about some of the factors in why an academic might choose to share resources openly. Perhaps that’s why i got distracted by the question of (relative) academic salaries. Advocates for openness often make the argument that, in general, if something is publicly funded it should be publicly available and I agree with this position both as a tax payer and sort-of academic (I’m not claiming that I’m always consistent but this is my default stance).

I think what I’m trying to think around is what this potentially does to the value of intellectual output – specifically does this argument promote:

  1. academics are solely public employees who do “work-for-hire” (I know some institutions have such a policy but many are deliberately ‘vague’)
  2. academcs employed by private institutions or at public institutions but supported by private funding (on a FEC equivalent basis) have no obligation to the public, and perhaps even an obligation not to share?

Obviously the issue of sharing and public funding is only a small part of the arguments for and against openly sharing stuff, but what side effects do we risk in such an argument?

My discussion about salaries was more to do with the notion that if you’re about to get a phd (or thinking about doing one) and are faced with the prospect of competing to become ‘work-for-hire’ at a university for a comparatively lower rate rather than being work for hire in other sectors, is there a risk that fewer candidates will go into academia? [or given the glut of phd’s and dearth of jobs is this a good thing?]

I appreciate there are a multitude of reasons people go into or end up in any given job – but does this argument for OER further remove the, somewhat mythical, notion of a scholar and replace it with academic for hire [is that a good/ necessary thing if it provides accountability? or does it lead to ‘industrialisation’ of education].

This isn’t entirely coherent and is perhaps somewhat UK centric but there’s something in the conversation and my reflection that I wanted to capture.

6 thoughts on “Public funding, OER, and Academics – a brief reflection

  1. Nice post John!

    I’m wondering about rescuing the idea of scholarship here… surely scholarship *is* sharing, in that you learn from your peers and are judged by sharing your own work with your peers. Openness seems to sit better with classic models of scholarship and academia… maybe it’s the 21st Century reality of academic labour that’s out of step?

  2. To me, if something exists and can be shared without costs to yourself then to do so is moral.

    Everything else is secondary. We’ve shared everything we’ve done for Triton for example. Every last line of code.

  3. Very interesting. I think this is about supply and demand to some extent. The funded projects have been necessary, i think, to promote the concept of oer and work out how best to do it (consent being the biggest issue for us clinical academics). So now there is stuff out there. So if you have created similar stuff, what’s the point in keeping it to yourself? you might as well add to the pool, and you should end up getting something back? Don’t think we are quite there yet, but my hope is that this is what will happen…..and yes, this is part of academic professionalism, I believe….

  4. from @ambrouk: Cognitive surplus and oer: a response to by @KavuBob via magicmarker androidapp

  5. Pingback: Bits and Pieces Around OERs… « OUseful.Info, the blog…

  6. Pingback: Public funding, OER, and Academics - a brief reflection | The 21st Century |

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