University policies too inward-looking

University of Otago

Following on the MOOC theme, I recently wrote a Letter-to-the-Editor to The Otago Daily Times (07/11/2013) regarding the University of Otago’s lack of vision regarding online teaching. Below is the letter and the response from the vice-chancellor.

University policies too inward-looking

As someone who had fostered online teaching within his own university department, I congratulate the Otago Polytechnic in becoming part of the Open Educational Resource (OER) university (ODT, 26.10.13). This and the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) provide challenges for extending the traditional teaching role of universities and tertiary institutions. This is a challenge that Otago University has not accepted as reviewed by the vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne (University of Otago Magazine, June, 2013).

The focus of Otago University is to maintain itself as a residential university. For the university, online teaching could be a lost opportunity similar to others lost in recent times such as the AgResearch Invermay collaboration with the $16 million Christie Building - centre for reproduction and genomics. As Steven Joyce [Minister of  Science and Innovation] politely put it "the initial proposals and development of the Christie Building has not materialised ... ".

Other opportunities lost were not obtaining any of the seven CoREs (Centres of Research Excellence) that the Government had provided universities to bid for - Auckland [University] obtained three. These CoREs brought with them significant financial benefits and associated prestige to the universities hosting them as well as providing a focus for their collaborative research expertise.

The current inward-looking stance of the university policymakers may result in the University of Otago becoming a relic of the past.

James Kalmakoff, PhD -- Former university academic and director of the Centre for Gene Research,  Dunedin, NZ

University of Otago vice­-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne replies: "I, too, congratulate the polytechnic on its open education resource. The polytechnic has clearly carved out its strategic space in the online education marketplace, and I am sure this resource will be a great option for students who select online study.

"Following wide consultation, the university recently launched its strategic direction to 2020. This strategy signals our unwavering commitment and ambition as a research-intensive and predominantly campus-based university with strong national and international linkages and a focus on high-quality research, teaching and service outcomes. We will continue to chart a course to achieve our clearly set-out goals.

"Please be assured that the university has a very bright future as a research intensive residential university that has high standards of excellence. The university is well-placed to enhance the outcomes for our students and our outstanding researchers will continue to contribute to the greater good of society and the environment."