Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is at the forefront of making free online education more accessible around the world—a resource that’s more important than ever since the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered classrooms, and one that more institutions are considering as education moves increasingly online.
TRU is the first in North America to offer an international credential transfer based on open educational resources that are available free online. It is also among the first in the world to recognize micro-credit transfer toward a university-level qualification.
This means students around the world can study bite-sized courses, or micro-courses, and compile them to get university credit from a respected institution. This achievement puts TRU among the leaders making education available to people everywhere, particularly those in developing countries or with limited funds to pay for courses.
“TRU has led the way to implementing an international micro-credentialling system with pathways to achieving a university qualification,” said Wayne Mackintosh, Open Education Resource Foundation managing director and facilitator for the Open Education Resource universitas (OERu).
Established in 2011, the OERu is a non-profit network of post-secondary institutions from five continents united in making education affordable and accessible through open educational resources. Students take free courses in small blocks, or micro-courses, through the institution of their choice and only pay for assessment services if they want to get credit.
All online courses are based exclusively on open educational resources, so there are no expensive textbooks or other materials required, said Mackintosh, who is New Zealand’s UNESCO/International Council for Open and Distance Education Chair in Open Educational Resources.
Don Poirier, associate vice-president of TRU Open Learning, said TRU President Brett Fairbairn and Provost Christine Bovis-Cnossen have been strong supporters in making education as accessible as possible and in Open Learning’s commitment through OERu.
“We believe in what this is trying to accomplish. We believe in the reduction of barriers and we believe in the right of people to have access to post-secondary education,” he said.
“Co-operation requires work, dedication, thoughtfulness. As we see through this pandemic, the financial pressures institutions are feeling, there is an understandable and natural desire to contract, keep what you have, pull in and survive the storm. This is a wonderful example of the opposite. We can continue with our various missions, we can continue to do good. It’s an act of trust.”
This step with OERu is a giant leap forward, Poirier said.
“You need the trailblazers. For TRU, this not only demonstrates a commitment to our mandate around open access, but to communities worldwide and our belief in the power of co-operation and collaboration to meet very big challenges. Because society, whether it’s in our region, our country or world communities, we’re dealing with a lot of big issues. So any time post-secondary institutions can learn to work together, to pool their resources and knowledge, that’s good news.”