The research project

Background to the OERu, the TOUCANS research aims, methodology and links to findings.


The TOUCANS (Testing the OER University Concept and Aspirations: a National Study) project investigates the concept of the Open Educational Resources university (OERu).



Background to the OERu

The OERu was initiated by Otago Polytechnic (New Zealand), the University of Southern Queensland (Australia) and the University of Athabasca (Canada), with the support of UNESCO, the Commonwealth of Learning, the OER Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. (See Wikieducator, Taylor, 2011 and Athabasca University et al, 2011.)

The OERu aims to provide quality higher education opportunities for the estimated 100 million adults around the world for whom university is currently unaffordable and inaccessible.

The OERu has 15 Anchor Partners internationally, who have all agreed to collaborate via the OERten - the OERu Tertiary Education Network. The OERu concept is to be piloted by these 13 institutions from Sept 2012, and a full launch is planned for Sept 2013. 

TOUCANS research aims

TOUCANS aims to describe the models and frameworks that these institutions intend to use for the OERu pilot, and to ascertain the perceptions of stakeholders in HEIs in the UK towards the OERu. It is hoped that the findings from this study will assist those HEIs that are considering participating in the OERu, or other collaborative initiatives aimed at amplifying the impact of open educational resources, to make informed decisions around such participation.

Data gathering


Data was gathered in the following ways:
  • Desk research (reading and reviewing web-based documents)
  • Interviews with OERTen network members
  • Interviews with UK HEI thought leaders
  • A survey that was completed by 42 participants in UK HEIs.

Presentation of data

The OERTen interviews

‘Don’t underestimate the earthquakes… What would happen if the physical university were no longer available?’ (Herbert Thomas, Electronic Learning Media Team Leader at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.)

‘We’ll be aiming at a self-contained student who is resolutely going to keep persevering…’ (Kevin Bell, ex-Associate Vice President for Learning and Development, College of Online and Continuing Education at Southern New Hampshire University.)

‘I don’t see the death of the university that some people are going on about.’ (Irwin DeVries, Director of Instructional Design for Thompson Rivers University: Open Learning, Canada.)

We are focused on meeting community needs.’ (Vasi Doncheva, Flexible learning manager at NorthTec Polytechnic in New Zealand.)

‘We need to have a far more efficient system.’ (Wayne Mackintosh, Director of the International Centre for Open Education at Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, and Member of the Board of Directors of the OER Foundation.)

Terry Anderson and Rory McGreal speak about Athabasca University and the OERu. (Terry Anderson, Professor & Canada Research Chair in Distance Education, Athabasca University, Canada; Rory McGreal, UNESCO/COL Chairholder in Open Educational Resources, professor in the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University and director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute.)

The UK HEI interviews

‘We need to find a new model of supporting the work of academics.’ David Kernohan (Programme Manager, e-Learning at JISC.)

‘I think the idea of democratising education is the most powerful part of OER.’ (Professor Wyn Morgan, Director of Teaching and Learning, University of Nottingham.)

‘I don’t think it’s about being first; I think it’s about being absolutely sustainable in the long term.’(Andrew Law, Director of Open Media at the Open University, UK)

‘It feels good to give… but does it feel good to get?’ (Amber Thomas, Programme Manager: Digital Infrastructure at JISC)

‘The big question is: who is going to give the student the qualification and how is that going to be validated?’ (Professor Martin Hall, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Salford)

‘I look upon this as a playground.’ (Professor Jeff Haywood, Vice Principal, Knowledge Management and Chief Information Officer of the University of Edinburgh)

‘The more flexible we are, the worse it is for the students.’ (Dave Hall, Registrar of the University of Leicester) 

The survey data

What are the main obstacles or challenges that you have encountered in attempting to implement OER initiatives at your institution? Answers given in the survey.

The devil is in the detail: All the statements made by respondents from UK HEIs to the last two (optional) survey questions, ‘ What are your views on the OERu concept in the context of Higher Education in the UK?’ and ‘Do you have any further comments?’

Reflecting on the OERu concept: Feedback from members of the OERu network on the interviews and the survey findings that I’ve posted on the blog.

‘Fervent OERu supporters need to soak themselves in a bath of realism.’ Presentation of preliminary findings at the SCORE end-of-fellowship gathering.

What do you think are the key elements that an institution should have in place for successful participation in the OERu? Answers given by survey respondents to the question, ‘What do you think are the key elements that an institution should have in place in order to participate successfully in the OERu or similar initiatives?’

How compatible is your institution with the OERu concept? A 15-minute survey.  The TOUCANS survey aims and link to the survey.

Discussion of findings

UK HEIs and the OERu: Snog, Marry, Avoid? Presentation at the Higher Education Academy’s 2012 Conference in Manchester and discussion of findings from both the interview data and the survey data. 


  • Athabasca University: Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, Open Educational Resource (OER) Foundation, Otago Polytechnic, University of Southern Queensland. 2011. Open Education Resource University: Towards a logic model and plan for action. Retrieved from

  • Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). 2008. Transnational Qualifications Framework for the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth. Concept Document. Vancouver: Commonwealth of Learning. Retrieved from

  • Taylor, J.C. (2011). 'The OER university: From logic model to action plan'. Keynote Address. Open Planning meeting for the OER assessment and credit for students project, Otago Polytechnic, 23 February 2011, Dunedin, New Zealand.


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Gabi Witthaus
SCORE Fellow

Tel: +44 (0)116 252 5745

OER university (OERu)

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All material on this site is available under the following licence, except where otherwise stated:

CC 3.0 icon

TOUCANS Project Website by Gabi Witthaus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at