UCT signs the Cape Town Declaration

Our final area of growing partnership is knowledge sharing. Of course, everything we have discussed with university leaders this week involves the exchange of ideas and concepts. This specific initiative combines the dissemination of knowledge with the immediacy and accessibility of global communication.  Medical education and research is so critical in today’s world, and we want to collaborate with South African institutions to develop and provide open Internet access to educational materials in medicine, public health and the health sciences.The soul of scholarship is research. From the current to the ancient,universities must make all information accessible to faculty,students, and the public.

A point of pride for us is the creation of Sakai, the first global consortium of higher education institutions using the concepts and technologies of Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources encompass arange of information – such as textbooks, course materials,software and more – that can be accessed and re-used at no charge,and already, more than 150 universities around the world draw upon Sakai’s resources.

We want to create the same level of exchange between the University of Michigan’s health sciences schools – medicine, nursing, public health and dentistry – and medical students and faculty throughout Africa, so they can access materials to supplement their medical educations.

Speaking at the signing of the Declaration, Martin Hall said that the freedoms of the internet must be protected, or else knowledge will become a heavily-priced commodity. ‘Universities are not Mickey Mouse’, he said, expanding on the role of big corporates in the extension of copyright protection.’The commercialisation of intellectual property presents difficult challenges for a university’, he argued. ‘Universities thrive on making knowledge freely available and the Cape Town Open Education Declaration establishes important principles for ensuring that this happens.’

The function was a useful moment to step back and take stockof how far open approaches are taking hold at UCT. A gratifying number of senior academics and administrators expressed support;attendance from the academic staff included a number of new faces,rather than only the usual suspects; and most gratifying, there was enthusiastic support from the students. SHAWCO,the long-established student-run NGO, that offers health,educational  and welfare services, signed as an organisation and SHAWCO leaders want to engage further with the potential offered by the Declaration.

Given this impetus, it will be interesting to see where open education will beat UCT in another year’s time.

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