Access to education is a fundamental human right, as enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Throughout the world there is a disparity to access of not only education but also high quality educational resources. Open Education is a viable solution to widening access to quality education for all students worldwide.

 A student, by Petrus van der Velden. Gift of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, 1936. Te Papa (1936-0012-109)

A student, by Petrus van der Velden. Gift of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, 1936. Te Papa (1936-0012-109). No known copyright.

What is Open Education?

Open Education is based on the simple idea that knowledge is powerful and a public good, and that it is in the best interests of society to increase access to education and educational resources in order to produce a well informed and educated citizenry.

Over the last few years, more and more educators and educational institutions have started to open their resources under open licences, so that these resources can be freely (and legally) accessed, shared and adapted. Open Education provides everyone access to learning materials, most of all those non-traditional groups of students that aren’t engaged in the formal education system.

Why is it Important in Tertiary Education?

Given the changes in technology over the last decade,most universities and other tertiary education institutions have been relatively slow to recognise the potential of open educational resources. Higher educational institutions have been using the internet and other digital technologies for several years. Yet, until recently, most learning materials were locked up behind passwords in closed systems that were unreachable for outsiders. Open Education aims to break down such barriers and encourage and enable the free sharing of content.

Universities are constantly trying to improve their teaching practices by making their processes more engaging and motivating and Open Education Resources are a good method to address some of the problems that tertiary students currently face.

Here are five broader arguments on why higher education institutions should develop open education resources:

  1. The sharing of knowledge is a good thing, in line with human rights and generally speaking beneficial for society, especially those with little access to formal higher education;
  2. Resources developed by publicly funded institutions should be able to be freely shared and reused by the public;
  3. Sharing and reusing content reduces the costs of development i, thereby increasing efficiency;
  4. Open education resources presents a more positive and accessible view of education and can attract new students;
  5. Open practices can increase the quality and innovation of resources, as less time has to be spent on information that has already been collated by someone else.

The Cost of Education

The cost of education, and especially higher education, is ever increasing. When enrolling in university, you not only already face the $600- $800 dollars to enroll in one paper for one semester; you also face the sometimes exorbitant prices for some textbooks and resources. Students often have to turn to outdated editions of textbooks — or even opt not to buy them due to their unaffordability.

When you pay $100 for the latest edition of an ‘essential’ textbook (which the lecturer is the author of), and also use it twice in a semester, it is easy to see why many are calling for open educational resources. Also, due to the increasing spread by which knowledge and information is produced and disseminated throughout the globe, textbooks can become less relevant days after they are printed when new information comes to light. There is a strong need for up to date and accurate information especially in tertiary education.

Open Education Resources are a way to mitigate this problem. The price of educational content doesn’t need to be as expensive as it currently is. Through sharing this content online, we can add to the pool of information which students all around the world can have access to with little to no financial hindrance.


Education is an integral part of society and participation in higher education is increasingly in demand throughout the world. Despite the large number of people engaged in education there are still barriers to education such as the cost of resources. The idea of Open Educational Resources has the ability to mitigate some of the barriers facing people trying to enter the tertiary education sector.

Victoria Rea is a law student at Victoria University of Wellington, and is currently working as an intern for Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

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