ZBW MediaTalk

by Birgit Fingerle

The HoF work report „Disruption oder Evolution? Systemische Rahmenbedingungen der Digitalisierung in der Hochschulbildung“ (PDF in German language) („Disruption or Evolution? Systemic Framework Conditions for Digitisation in Higher Education“) of the Institute for Higher Education Research (HoF) at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (prepared on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research) was published at the end of June 2019.

The report deals with the digitisation of education at universities. Since research at universities is not the subject of the report, research-related topics such as open data and open science are not considered. In contrast, open access is included as an important factor influencing higher education. The report identifies and analyses the contextual conditions that are both systemically relevant to the digitisation of higher education and can be influenced by policy.

A variety of factors that are systemically relevant to digitisation

The forty factors that were thus found were systematised in five dimensions (financing, law, technology and infrastructure, organisation, and social-cultural). Ten of the factors were identified as particularly important influencing factors:

  • Financing: 1. Temporary subsidies as start-up financing for the digital transformation of higher education, and 2. Revenues from paid continuing education programmes.
  • Law: 3. Open access, 4. Data protection, and 5. Harmonisation of the state university laws.
  • Technology and infrastructure: 6. Data/Network infrastructure, and 7. Interfaces/Integration.
  • Organisation: 8. Management tools, and 9. University strategies.
  • Social-cultural: 10. Acceptance by lecturers

For these ten factors, interdependencies and the requirements for future action were determined. Since open access and lecturers’ acceptance of open science are particularly important, we have looked at the needs for action mentioned here.

As a complex field of action, open access requires government intervention

On the subject of open access, the work report points out that the debate as a whole is very complex and characterised by the sometimes strongly divergent interests of stakeholders. In addition, open access interacts with many other factors, such as financing and lecturer acceptance. The mentioned needs for action include: licence fees, the free use of scientific literature, scientific publication networks, and the safeguarding of scientific articles.

Top-down state interventions to promote open access are considered necessary. In concrete terms, legislative amendments are cited as being necessary to promote open access. Other intervention options include: compensation for interference in the property rights of publishers; online licencing platforms, such as a one-stop shop to enable convenient individual billing; and evaluating upload filters against copyright infringements.

Lecturer acceptance must increase

Complex changes at universities in recent years have triggered uncertainty and resistance among university lecturers. Current surveys, for example, show scepticism and potential for resistance within universities with respect to digital processes and offers. In addition, lecturers across all educational fields do not consider themselves to be sufficiently equipped for digitisation and the significant changes in higher education that are associated with it. Their attainment of digital sovereignty thus poses a major challenge for digital higher education – and it also needs to be continuously developed. This – as well as creating and working with digital course options – requires an increased amount of dedicated time.

However, the possibilities for government intervention are limited and the influencing factors are mainly at the university level. Nevertheless, the framework conditions can be designed in such a way that they increase acceptance by leading to positive experiences. The actions required to create lecturer acceptance are: creating opportunities to compensate for the extra efforts, and improving the status of teaching.

Future scenarios: threat to university locations?

  • A disruption by suppressing classroom teaching, which would go hand in hand with a significant reduction in university locations – especially in rural regions.
  • An evolutionary development with the increased inclusion of blended learning, in which only a few locations would be threatened with closure.
  • A diversification in which universities further develop different profiles with more or less digital educational options. This would create a very heterogeneous university landscape in which no university location would be threatened in the foreseeable future.
  • Further information:

    Birgit Fingerle holds a diploma in economics and business administration and works at ZBW, among others, in the fields innovation management, open innovation, open science and currently in particular with the "Open Economics Guide". Portrait: Copyright Northerncards ©

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