The relationship between Institutional Culture and OER Policy

20 Feb 2017 - 16:00
Henry Trotter and Dr Glenda Cox presenting on institutional culture and OER policy

Image: Henry Trotter and Dr Glenda Cox presenting their research on institutional culture and OER policy Credit: Sukaina Walji

It is important to understand how the institutional culture of an organisation can impact its policy on open educational resources (OER) and its related activity. This is according to the research article, Institutional Culture and OER Policy: How Structure, Culture, and Agency Mediate OER Policy Potential in South African Universities, by Dr Glenda Cox and Henry Trotter of CILT published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning

The article looks at institutional culture as a combination of its existing policy structure, its prevailing social culture and academics’ own agency. It also considers whether an OER policy acts as an “hygienic” (a necessary but not sufficient variable in promoting OER activity) or “motivating” (incentivizing OER activity either among individual academics or the institution as a whole) factor.  

The three South African universities studied were UCT, the University of the Fort Hare (UFH) and University of South Africa (UNISA). 

The table below shows the relative importance (low, medium, high) of structure, culture and agency on motivating OER activities according to institutional context








According to the research, with a highly collegial institutional culture at UCT, it is “doubtful whether any further policy elaboration would create higher levels of motivation regarding OER”. Allowing OER activity to develop organically would appear to be the most effective strategy as academics’ motivation to engage with OER “derives from their individual concerns”. 

At UFH, “a policy intervention allowing scholars to possess copyright of their teaching materials would be a useful first step in moving towards a situation where they could leverage the cultural power of their peer groups to engage with OER.”

And at UNISA, “the university’s managerial institutional culture makes an OER-related policy intervention the appropriate type of instrument for spurring OER activity there.”

Based on these findings the paper argues that “any discussion of a policy intervention must start with an appreciation of the institutional cultures into which it would fit,” as a university’s institutional culture plays a role in what types of mechanisms - structural, cultural or agential - motivate academics to engage in certain activities such as adopting OER. Even if a university implements an appropriate IP policy, it may not be enough to motivate OER activity because of the broader institutional cultural forces.

OER advocates must therefore take a “nuanced, tailored and often multi-pronged approach to OER interventions at different institutions. This may be especially true for those in the Global South where there is not only a high degree of organizational diversity, but challengingly low levels of administrative and financial support.”

For the full paper please click here