UCT signs the Cape Town Declaration

The University of Cape Town –
which is one of South Africa's leading research universities – last
week became one of the few major universities worldwide to sign the
Cape Town Declaration
on Open Education
(previously blogged here and here). The Declaration was signed by  Deputy 
Vice-Chancellor Martin Hall, at a function in the Senate Room, hosted
by the D-VC's office, the Centre for
Higer Education Development
and the Centre
for Educational Technology
and supported by the Shuttleworth Foundation. The motivation for the event came
from the OpeningScholarship
project, both because Cheryl Hodgekinson-Williams and I were
participants in the inaugural workshop for the drafting of the
Declaration and because it is becoming clear as the
OpeningScholarship project nears the end of its first phase that
there is undoubtedly a role to be played by opening education
resources at UCT. The function was a great success, judging from the
comments of UCT blogger Retroid

 I just had to comment on
this function: I had ignored what I thought was a boilerplate
invitation, only to be told sternly that they really did want to see
me there…so I went, and I was glad I did.

Prawns.  Serious
three-corner jobs and hot sauce.  Fruit kebabs.  Satay
chicken.  A more-than-passable Merlot/Cab blend….

Oh, and folk from the
Shuttleworth Foundation, a public signing of the Declaration
– and some very interesting conversation with folk that I only
ever meet at occasions like this….

I was very glad to discover
that the penetration of computer technology in to education at UCT
has come a long way since the old M(M)EG days, of which Martin Hall
reminded us – and that WebCT, which I found so clunky I never got
into it, despite trying hard – is completely superseded by Vula.

The reference here to Vula
(the UCT version of Sakai)
is apposite: in his speech, Martin Hall tracked the impetus for UCT's
signing  of the Declaration back to  the decision made a
few years ago to establish the Centre for Educational Technology as a
unit within the Centre for Higher Education Development – thus
identifying it as part of the university's development initiative –
and the decision to invest in becoming the first SAKAI partner
outside the USA.

The link between Sakai and OERs was endorsed a
few weeks ago at UCT by President Mary Sue Coleman of Michigan
University when a Michigan delegation visited UCT to renew the
partnership agreement between the two institutions. President Coleman
the launch of a joint programme to develop open education
resources in the Faculty of Medicine at UCT: 


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

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 a
range 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

 The function was a useful moment to step back and take stock
of 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 be
at UCT in another year's time.