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Promoting cross-border education – Virtual mobility

In this four-part series, Sarah Richardson and Ali Radloff highlight the key considerations for strengthening collaboration around cross-border education. Here they address the use of technology to facilitate international mobility without movement.

Universities have long played a significant role in educating the next generation of professionals, driving innovations in research and shaping national debates. But gone are the days when universities have been able to focus solely on their national contexts.

Cross-border education is a topic of considerable importance to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies, contributing directly to APEC's goal of supporting sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region.

Two key goals of cross-border education are to enhance the quality of education available to students and to stimulate innovation in research to solve global dilemmas. Both of these call for a high degree of integration between universities in different countries across four key areas:

Virtual mobility patterns

There is increasing acknowledgement of the opportunities for building strong transnational connections between institutions, researchers and students without the need for any physical movement.

Physical mobility has limitations, particularly in terms of the resources it requires, and this inevitably leads to inequalities. Internationally mobile students and those who attend foreign institutions in their home country tend to come from elite backgrounds, while the majority of students remain unable to access these opportunities. Mobile researchers must be able to leave behind home responsibilities, disadvantaging those who tend to bear the majority of household and caring responsibilities; notably women. Internationally mobile institutions must have the resources to invest overseas, limiting this option to wealthy institutions.

In contrast, virtual mobility opens up the significant value that cross-border education can offer to a much greater population.

In addition to enhancing access to cross-border education among students, researchers and institutions without the means to otherwise do so, virtual mobility improves the capacity of the higher education sector to absorb the millions of students who represent demand for a university education which cannot be met through traditional means.

...virtual mobility improves the capacity of the higher education sector to absorb the millions of students who represent demand for a university education which cannot be met through traditional means

Two approaches, among others, that support virtual mobility are Open Educational Resources (OERs) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

OERs are teaching, learning or research materials that are freely available for use, adaption and distribution. OER can refer to teaching materials for short courses through to full modules; learning resources, such as textbooks; assessments; and the tools to make these materials available.

MOOCs range in content but the most well-known tend to be designed by university teaching staff and have highly structured curricula, recommended readings, student activities and assessments. They vary in form but are frequently characterised by the enrolment of several thousand students in an online course with no fees, no prerequisites, no completion expectations and no formal accreditation.

Barriers to virtual mobility

Restrictive publishing practices
Restrictive publishing practices prevent the sharing of resources between institutions because university curricula and teaching resources tend to be developed by individual university departments or individual staff members. This approach enables a specific focus on local issues but leads to inefficiencies and prevents the sharing of knowledge and expertise.

One response to promote the sharing of educational resources under the umbrella of OERs is to embrace Creative Commons licences that make educational resources available to all, but do not give carte blanche in their usage.

Recognition of qualifications
The current lack of recognition of qualifications gained from MOOCs, from prior learning and from other institutions is a barrier to realising the potential of virtual mobility. Many institutions remain wary of giving credit to studies undertaken outside of traditional formal contexts.

The lack of recognition of credits gained from virtual education is partly due to the embryonic stage of the assessment of virtual learning. As technology improves, the recognition of prior learning can move away from a portfolio-driven approach toward one in which students undertake online assessments to prove what they know and can do.

Strengthening collaboration

Technology can be used to enable a more fluid exchange of skills and knowledge. It can bring students and researchers together across large distances and can make university education available to otherwise marginalised groups.

Exploring the options for expanding the use of technology in virtual mobility can yield many benefits for a wide range of higher education stakeholders. Carefully thought out collaboration in this space will facilitate the expansion of cross border education in ways which are of significant benefit to all economies. ■

Further information:
This article is based on the discussion paper ‘Promoting Regional Education Services Integration’, prepared ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Sarah Richardson and ACER Research Fellow Ali Radloff to inform the APEC University Associations Cross-Border Education Cooperation workshop held in Kuala Lumpur in May 2014, and the subsequent workshop report, published by APEC in September 2014.


About the author

Ali Radloff is a Research Fellow in ACER’s Tertiary Education research program.

More [rd] articles by Ali Radloff

View selected works of Ali Radloff


About the author

Dr Sarah Richardson is the Research Director of ACER India and leads educational research projects in a number of countries that focus on primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.

More [rd] articles by Sarah Richardson

View selected works of Sarah Richardson

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