OpenFiction [Blog]

Sustainability models

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on May 9, 2007

Just got back from the most recent OCW Consortium meeting, which was really a great event. 100 attendees from 16 different countries, with new OCW initiatives getting underway in Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, and other places–plus the launch of 10 Spanish OCW sites. Tremendous energy around the world, and very exciting to be a part of.

I made a point to try and gather as many descriptions of sustainability approaches as I could, and there are quite a few interesting models emerging. A quick sampling:

  • One US school with strong alumni connections and relatively low operating costs is pursuing an alumni-funded endowment.
  • Utah State University has successfully obtained funding from the Utah state legislature.
  • UC Irvine is moving forward on a course-by-course basis, seeking out sponsors with connections to the subject materials. One example of this is the funding from Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards for their Fundamentals of Financial Planning course.
  • MIT is exploring an NPR-style approach, with a mix of corporate sponsorships, visitor donations and revenue-generating mechanisms (such as links to Amazon that generate referral fees).

I’m a little less clear on international models, but many seem to be supported by the institutions or funded by governments (as in the case of China, which now publishes more than 1,100 courses in Chinese through the CORE site.

The takeaway for me? There is likely no silver bullet for sustainability, and models of sustainability are highly context-specific. I think this is good news–it means that like small businesses, OCW’s will have to find the business models that work for them. I’m sure there will be a number of models that turn out to be replicable with minor variations, but I don’t think it hurts the health of the movement to have a diversified funding base across projects. Some projects might fail to find a model that works, but it means overall the movement is less likely to collapse if a single source used by all projects were to dry up.

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