Thursday, March 7, 2013


I am delighted to have been asked by Leighton Andrews, the Minister for Education, to be part of his working group that is examining online digital learning and how the Welsh Government can support the higher education sector in this growing field.

I first became involved in this area back in the early 1990s, when I was course development leader for Small Business Management on the  MBA (Distance Learning) at Durham University.

I was then involved in developing an online MBA whilst at Bangor University in the 1990s, and more recently have been asked to head up a new initiative for Enterprise and Innovation Education within the University of Wales (which has been tasked by the Vice Chancellor to develop online MBA programmes in entrepreneurship and innovation). This includes the online MBA4PHD initiative I am collaborating on with Turku University and the University of Gothenberg.

According to the Welsh Government, Welsh Universities are already engaged in a range of activities designed to maximise the benefits afforded by advances in learning technologies.

In seeking to respond to the cultural shift in the expectations of students, universities are eager to engage through the latest online teaching methods.  Globally, the advent of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) represents a new internet-based model for volume participation in higher education. Such ventures are not new - the Open University has been offering open source material for some time.  More recently, however, a series of MOOC ventures has been launched by some of the most prestigious global academic institutions such as Stanford, MIT and Harvard.

Udacity and Coursera (which includes the University of Edinburgh) are among the pioneers for a new brand of for-profit online higher education providers.  In just one year, these new ventures have attracted over $100m of private venture capital investment. Whilst the long-term sustainability of such ventures may be open to question, the reach and quality of such disruptive innovations may have profound implications for the delivery of higher education in Wales. At the end of 2012 the Open University announced the launch of Futurelearn, with partners including Cardiff University, to produce a UK-based platform for massive open online courses.

Chaired by Andrew Green, the National Librarian for Wales, the Working Group will be tasked with examining the potential for MOOCs and whether the Welsh higher education sector is sufficiently prepared to meet these challenges.  and to consider also the opportunities and challenges presented by the development of open educational resources more broadly.

The terms of reference for the Working Group will be to advise the Welsh Government on:
  • the potential competitive threat posed by global technology-based developments to the higher education sector in Wales;
  • the potential opportunities afforded by technological development for the Welsh higher education sector at a time of constrained public expenditure;
  • to what extent the Welsh higher education sector is working collectively to bring economies of scale to maximise the opportunities afforded; and
  • to what extent technological development may provide a platform to increase participation in part-time and full-time higher education, again in a period of constrained public spending. 
The Group will begin its work in March and will report to the Minister by the end of September this year.