This article is part of UMSU’s Manitoba Elections 2019 series, detailing the policy priorities that we have advocated for provincial parties to adopt as part of their platforms to ensure postsecondary education in the province remains affordable and accessible. Learn more here.
RECOMMENDATION: The Government of Manitoba provide a 50% increase in funding grants for Campus Manitoba to enhance its work promoting the creation and use of open educational resources (OERs) in Manitoba curriculums, and to implement an online credit transfer database.
Campus Manitoba (CMB) is a government-funded consortium based out of Brandon University comprised of seven of the provinces public colleges and universities, and which reports directly to the Ministry of Education and Training. In its 2018 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Manitoba committed to following through on the College Education Review which highlighted CMB as a vital means of coordination within the province’s postsecondary education system.
In existence in various forms since 1990, CMB’s central mandate is to increase the accessibility of postsecondary education in the province. They currently do so through operating three online platforms: eCourses MB provides students with a central portal for all online courses in Manitoba; OpenEd MB makes higher education more accessible by reducing student costs through the use of openly licensed textbooks; and Set Your Course is a launching point for individuals interested in career and educational pathways in Manitoba.
The two core ways in which an empowered CMB can help strengthen the postsecondary education system in Manitoba is through expanding its work to increase the creation, cataloguing and use of OERs; and through implementing the transfer credit database previously tailored for the province by CMB – and which is ready for implementation shortly after approval.
In 2015, CMB began its OpenEd initiative, which is focused on spreading awareness of OERs and learning from, and working with, counterparts in other provinces to facilitate greater inclusion of OERs in postsecondary programs in Manitoba. This is achieved through a multi-stage process of evaluating and cataloguing existing, high-quality OERs and aiding in the creation of new materials.
As detailed in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental policy research group, OERs can be generally defined as:
“Digitized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students, and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning, and research. OER includes learning content, software tools to develop, use, and distribute content, and implementation resources such as open licenses.”
With OERs, content can be accessed online, and kept up-to-date since the material is open source and adaptable; lecturers can tailor the material to the specific objectives of a particular program. While reducing course material costs for students, evidence shows that including more OERs in university courses is also linked to better learning outcomes and lower rates of withdrawal from courses. By replacing costly traditional textbooks through having faculty adopt customizable, online learning materials in course programs it makes the student learning experience more nuanced, contemporary and inclusive.
Most immediately, however, is that the use of OERs in course materials creates instant, and urgently needed savings for students at minimal cost to the government or postsecondary institutions. With OERs, a minor upfront investment will facilitate faculty to aid in the review, adoption, creation and maintenance of OERs in Manitoba. The return on investment will far exceed the initial expenditure. It represents a complimentary alternative to achieving student savings via scholarship and bursary schemes, which require substantial, and ever-increasing amounts of money invested each year in order to keep up with demand and inflation.
The financial burden that learning materials place on students is undeniable, and it is negatively affecting their ability to complete their education. Raising awareness of the value and usefulness of OERs – among students, faculty, and administration alike – is vital, and an area that CMB is uniquely positioned to help.
Online Credit Transfer Database
Alongside its work with OERs, CMB has also worked to develop a credit transfer database suitable for Manitoba to ease student transferability and continuity of studies between the province’s postsecondary institutions.
The software for a version of the BCcampus online model tailored for Manitoba’s postsecondary system has already been made, and could be implemented in under a year once approved.
A transfer credit database facilitates student mobility between institutions and via online learning. Students know how the courses they are taking, or have taken in the past, transfer to other institutions. If a course appears on the database it would mean that the course has been guaranteed to have formal recognition from each institutions’ registrar’s offices. A publicly available listing will prevent students from spending money and delaying their graduation date by taking courses that are either unnecessary or redundant.
Currently, students are required to request official transcripts as part of an inquiry into course recognition, which causes major delays in program transfers. This unnecessary red tape can draw out studies, increasing time-to-completion rates, and deterring mature students to return to studies and complete their degrees.
Implementing a credit transfer database would also allow for the collection of unprecedented amounts of data on student transfers and mobility between institutions within Manitoba, allowing for a more efficient allocation of public resources to support postsecondary education in the province.
For Manitoba’s economy, this means more highly skilled workers will be available to enter the labour market sooner rather than struggling with administrative hurdles to find the right courses to finish their studies or certification.