Universities in Australia have rapidly incorporated different forms of Open Educational Practice (OEP) into their activities. Of 39 universities, 20 are currently offering some form of ‘open’ online content or programs. However; only 5 of these are made available under an open access licence which would meet the definition of Open Educational Resources (OER) referred to in the UNESCO Paris Declaration. Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne (Swinburne) and the University of Tasmania (UTas) are currently undertaking a joint research project, funded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching, to investigate: Open Education Licensing: Effective open licensing policy and practice for universities in Australia. The project is surveying existing and future plans for OEP in Australian universities and investigating what practical licensing tools and information are needed to guarantee the delivery of effective, high quality open online educational material to a worldwide audience.
This paper will discuss the initial findings from the OEL research project’s survey of Australian universities and explore the reasons behind an apparent reluctance in some cases for universities to embrace the widest possible ‘open’ dissemination of educational content. In particular it will investigate the complex interaction between the commercial academic publishing industry, the statutory educational licences in the Australian Copyright Act 1968, university intellectual property policies, software/platform vendors and OER in the Australian context. It suggests that universities in Australia, operating in an increasingly deregulated market are adopting a range of different individual approaches to the delivery of ‘open’ content as part of their online services not all of which comply with accepted definitions. This may be influenced by existing business and legal structures underlying the market for academic intellectual property as well as the individual university’s level of policy commitment to open access to knowledge. The approaches taken appear to operate on a continuum of ‘openness’ that includes not only different types of open copyright licences, but also technical openness and approaches to accessibility.
Australian universities are embracing OER in a context of global market expansion for the education sector, particularly in the English speaking market in the Asia/Pacific region. However; the development of new business models requires academic and general staff to have a clear understand the impact of open licensing decisions on their specific market for academic intellectual property. The OEL project is developing an OEL Toolkit for Australian academic and general staff to provide plain language information to help universities link business planning with decisions about where their open course offerings fall within a ‘continuum of openness’ and how this can influence their licensing decisions. OEP is part of a complex business model for universities incorporating both commercial and non-commercial online content. As Australian universities explore their options, a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of open licensing decisions on overall business planning may assist with the greater adoption of OEP as a key component in Australia’s expansion in the global online education market.
 Paris OER Declaration, UNESCO (2012 June 20-22)