The question of cost-saving and OER: a study from South Africa

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Image made available under a CC BY-SA licence by 401(K) 2012.

A big question in the Open Educational Resources (OER) research arena is whether and under what circumstances producing and using OER may result in cost savings. This issue of cost and cost savings has been explored in several studies, largely considering tertiary education in the USA, e.g. Allen & Student PIRGs (2010) and Hilton et al. (2014), which have found that using OER can have an associated saving for students.

Limited research has, however, been done to date on the extent of public funding of OER within basic education (K-12 equivalent) in South Africa. To tackle this topic, I undertook research in this area as part of ROER4D Sub-project 11 Public funding for basic education in South Africa: Are open educational resources being funded? As claims have been made about the potential cost reductions that come with using OER, this study aimed to establish a benchmark of public spending on educational resources, uncover how much is being spent on OER and assess cost savings of OER adoption.

An output from this study, entitled “Tracking the Money for Open Educational Resources in South African basic education: What we don’t know”, was originally published in The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18(4). It is also being published as a chapter in the ROER4D edited volume. The chapter explores some of the gaps identified in the publicly available information on government funding for educational resources in the South African Basic Education system.

During this study, I conducted a desk review and document analysis of official information sources on South African basic education to develop a conceptual understanding of funding allocations the South African government uses for educational resources. A review of publicly available government reports and budgets showed that there is insufficient information at this time to determine how much is being spent on OER specifically or to act as a benchmark for potential cost savings of OER. As a result, this study highlights the information gaps which would need to be filled in order to make claims about OER and their potential as cost savers.

I hope this exploratory research will provide a useful baseline for future research in the field of OER funding allocation, identify the challenges in gaining access to data required to calculate cost savings and the highlight the importance of making use of these data to be able to calculate possible savings.

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A few other outputs have been generated in the course of this research:

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References

Allen, N. & Student PIRGs. (2010). A cover to cover solution: How open textbooks are the path to textbook affordability. Washington: Center for Public Interest Research. Retrieved from http://www.studentpirgs.org/sites/student/files/reports/A-Cover-To-Cover-Solution_4.pdf.

Hilton, J., Robinson T. J., Wiley, D. A. & Ackerman, J. (2014). Cost-savings achieved in two semesters through the adoption of Open Educational Resources. International Review of Research on Distance and Open Learning, 15(2). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1700/2833.

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