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Curriculum, intellectual property rights and open educational resources in British universities—and beyond


Is the curriculum in British universities being influenced by decisions about ownership of intellectual property rights (IPR) in ‘open educational resources’ (OERs) that are available online under Creative Commons licenses, free of charge? This paper provides the context for, describes and analyses three significant examples in British higher education where OERs are being created for use by academics and learners on campus or at a distance. OpenLearn and iTunes U, two of the British examples, are drawn from the Open University of the United Kingdom, which teaches over 200,000 undergraduate and graduate students almost entirely at a distance. The third example, OTTER, is at the University of Leicester, a campus university in England with about 7,000 distance learners. Both universities depend on government funding, student fees, research and entrepreneurial income. All three examples are funded indirectly by the British government, though OpenLearn has received substantial US foundation support as well. In presenting these examples, the questions arise of whether the projects are supply- or demand-driven, and of whether they are altruistic or not. Debate over intellectual property rights has influenced creation of the OERs and vice versa, but from these three examples it seems doubtful whether, as yet, OERs and IPR have significantly influenced British universities’ curriculum. The paper ends with discussion of how OERs created in British universities are influencing teaching and learning in other countries, as globalisation advances.

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The authors thank Emma Davies for assistance in preparing the figures.

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Correspondence to David Hawkridge.

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Hawkridge, D., Armellini, A., Nikoi, S. et al. Curriculum, intellectual property rights and open educational resources in British universities—and beyond. J Comput High Educ 22, 162–176 (2010).

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  • British universities
  • Curriculum
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Open educational resources
  • Open University
  • University of Leicester
  • Beyond Distance Research Alliance