Expert Meeting on Benchmarking for Open Universities

On 13th of April 2022, UNESCO IITE and Shanghai Open University (SOU) hosted the Consultative Expert Meeting to discuss approaches and dimensions of a benchmarking framework for Open Universities (OUs). The meeting was titled “Improving the Performance of Open Universities: Towards the Development of Benchmarking Framework” and gathered OU representatives and benchmarking experts from different countries and regions.

These consultations were organised within the framework of the joint UNESCO IITE-SOU project “Promoting ICT Capacity Building and Open Education in the Era of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Technologies”. The aim of the project is to support opening up of education to a wide audience of potential students and to develop teacher capacities in using digital technologies and content for formal education and lifelong learning, including digital citizenship education.

Mr. Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE, started the Meeting with his opening speech. He welcomed the participants and reaffirmed the important role of OUs for the open education movement:

Openness in education involves many related concepts, including open educational resources, MOOCs, open data, open licences, and, of course, open universities. Being one of the pillars of open education movement, open universities implement the concept of openness in higher education through a number of dimensions and have great potential for contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education.

Mr. Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE

Mr. Hong Wang, President of SOU, expressed his gratitude to all the participants for their contribution to the joint IITE-SOU project:

Our institutions represent different countries and regions and operate in diverse historical, social, economic and political contexts. However, we share one fundamental thing – we are open and distance learning universities. With this project, we would like to contribute to the quality open higher education and continue promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Mr. Hong Wang, President of SOU

Ms. Ekaterina Pushkareva and Mr. Denis Kapelyushnik, Programme Specialists of the UNESCO IITE Unit of Digital Pedagogy and Learning Materials, presented pre-screening findings of the UNESCO IITE – SOU Project and outlined the plans for activities on designing the benchmarking recommendations for open universities.

The keynote speaker of the Meeting was Mr. Paul Bacsich, Visiting Professor, The University of Derby Online Learning, CEO of Dualversity (United Kingdom). In his presentation titled “Benchmarking online distance learning institutions – reflection on prior experiences”, he described benefits and challenges of benchmarking in the context of higher education and encouraged representatives of open universities to share their experiences in quality assurance.

The second part of the Meeting was dedicated to an open discussion and engaged representatives of over 15 open universities. The participants discussed various approaches and practices to improve the performance of universities through internal evaluation and self-assessment of their fundamental and/or support processes and how to ensure their compatibility with a set of national and international standards. The following set of topics related to the performance of open universities was suggested as dimensions of the benchmarking framework for open universities:

  • Quality of education as applied to open universities: OU-specific dimensions for benchmarking
  • Qualitative and quantitative data to improve quality of education: relevant indicators
  • Policy and strategic management of OUs
  • Curriculum: aligning national and international standards and socio-economic demands
  • Pedagogy, instructional design and educational content
  • Innovation and technologies and their impact on the quality of education
  • Human resource management for quality assurance: qualification requirements, professional development, faculty load and staff effectiveness
  • Learners’ motivation, engagement and retention
  • External collaboration with prospective students and graduates, employers and universities
  • Funding types and business model

The recording of the meeting is available through the Youtube channel of UNESCO IITE.