Education for All: Speaks with the United Nations University in Japan

By Megan Driscoll

Brendan Barrett, United Nations University When did the United Nations University begin offering course materials online, and what inspired you to join the OCW consortium?

Brendan Barrett: The UNU began exploring the idea of an information society open to all in the run up to the World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunis in November 2005. This included proposals for the opening up of software, courseware and the Internet.

We are concerned that universities in the developing world cannot afford expensive software license and text books. In this context, we co-organized a side event at the Summit in collaboration with MIT and the Hewlett Foundation on Opencourseware. Six months later, the UNU joined the Opencourseware consortium. Is there a particular educational philosophy that drives your participation in open education?

BB: Open education lies at the heart of the UNU's educational philosophy. As a relatively small institution with just over 500 in staff, the sharing of educational materials via the open educational resources model offers a cost effective model designed to reach a more extensive audience than would be possible via traditional education. The UNU site states that you are 'advancing knowledge for human security, peace and development.' Can you explain how your participation in OCW forwards this goal?

BB: The UNU's Charter requires that we undertake research on pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations and its agencies, with due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as natural sciences, pure and applied. We are required to disseminate the knowledge gained to the United Nations and its agencies, as well as to scholars and to the public, in order to increase dynamic interaction in the world-wide community of learning and research. OCW helps forward this latter goal, particularly when trying to reach the global scholarly community. UNU Japan is part of the United Nations University system, which is designed to further the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Can you discuss how education access and, by extension, OCW fit into the UN Charter?

BB: Within the UN system, UNESCO and the United Nations University work closely to promote the open educational resources approach, which is inline with the UN's goal of education for all. What percentage of the UNU's course materials have made it onto your OCW website and what types of materials do you offer - course syllabi, exams, video or audio lectures. . . ?

BB: Roughly 25% of UNU's course materials have currently been made into OCW and these are mainly in the form of course syllabi and supporting materials. It is important to recognize that in December 2009, the UN General Assembly amended the UNU Charter to make it possible for UNU to 'grant and confer master's degrees and doctorates, diplomas, certificates and other academic distinctions under conditions laid down for that purpose in the statues by the Council.' Since that date, the UNU has been pre-occupied with the development of degree programs, which will ultimately be transformed into OCW. Although UNU Japan is an inherently international university, your OCW materials are currently only offered in English. Have you considered translating your offerings into other languages, and if so, which ones?

BB: At this point in time we do not have plans to translate our OCW into other languages. What are the demographics of your primary users? Do you track their countries of origin, age group or other information, and can you share this data?

BB: In the past year, the top 10 countries for our primary OCW users were USA, India, Algeria, UK, Canada, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea and Germany. We do not have a breakdown of the age groups of these primary users. Are there any other current or in-development initiatives at UNU Japan or in the UNU system to promote open education?

BB: The newest and most relevant UNU project is OpenEd World, which promotes open educational services, self-organized online learning courses, peer-to-peer and community based learning ecosystems, open production and innovation networks. These are all new institutional approaches towards higher educational learning that potentially could provide a powerful means to improve the provision of basically unlimited numbers of learners with higher educational services in a cost-efficient way. Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about UNU's OCW program.

BB: The UNU has its center in Tokyo and a network of institutions across the globe in Canada, Venezuela, Ghana, China, Malaysia, Belgium, Finland, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. OCW has functioned as a fantastic tool to promote collaboration between these institutes.

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