On 23 November 2019, UNESCO adopted a recommendation on Open Educational Resources (OER). This marks the culmination of a long effort to which IFLA has contributed from the perspective of libraries. It is with a great enthusiasm that IFLA welcomes this consensus of UNESCO’s Member States.

Open Educational Resources (OER) are “learning, teaching and research materials, regardless of format and medium, that are in the public domain or protected by copyright and have been published under an open licence allowing free access, reuse, reassignment, adaptation and redistribution by others.”[1]

After almost twenty years of work to promote access to educational resources under free and open licenses, accessible to all, the new UNESCO Recommendation represents useful progress.

The History behind the Recommendation

In 2002, a UNESCO Forum popularised the term “Open Educational Resources”, particularly to boost access to education in developing countries. The educational community, the core producer of these resources, has mobilised to promote the production, sharing and access of these resources to the public.

Ten years on, in 2012, UNESCO organised a congress on OER in Paris to exchange with ministers of education, experts, policymakers and researchers to discuss the evolution of these initiatives. At this, the Declaration on Open Educational Resources was accepted to call on governments to support their development and use.

This Declaration, consistent with UNESCO’s commitments on knowledge sharing, included the development of several principles. These include the idea that publicly funded materials for education should be open-licensed; that we should support capacity building; that we should promote collaboration; and that we should promote studies on Open Educational Resources.

In 2015, UNESCO published guidelines for OER in higher education (here, available in several languages) and in 2017 prepared the second Global Conference on Open Educational Resources to determine an action plan on these issues with stakeholders such as educators, teachers, librarians, learners, parents, and policymakers. This in turn called for work on a formal UNESCO Recommendation.

Coming to Agreement

The Recommendation was the subject of a number of consultations and meetings. Cecile Swiatek, Secretary General of the French Association of directors and staff of university and document libraries (ABDU), represented IFLA at an expert consultation meeting in May, successfully highlighting both the role of librarians in curating and giving access to OERs, but also to underline the importance of exceptions and limitations to copyright as well as open licencing.

On 20 November 2019, UNESCO’s 40th General Conference debated and finally adopted the Recommendation, noting that this text and the associated action plan supported UNESCO’s efforts to succeed in achieving the UN 2030 development agenda objectives.

This text includes 5 strategic objectives: 

_ Building the capacity of stakeholders to create access, use, adapt and redistribute OER; 

_ Developing supportive policy; 

_ Encouraging inclusive and equitable quality OER; 

_ Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER;

_ Facilitating international cooperation.

The adoption of this text aims to reduce costs in a simple way but also to promote innovation. Through work on these strategic objectives, it will be possible to support cooperation across countries to reduce duplication and enhance existing resources; encourage governments and educational and research organisations to develop policies with open licenses for related materials; support educational and research communities to create, modify, distribute with open licenses; develop sustainable models for educational resources.

We look forward to working with our members to make the most of the Recommendation in your work.

[1] Unesco Website, Unesco Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, 20 november 2019. https://en.unesco.org/news/unesco-recommendation-open-educational-resources-oer