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OpenCases: the Virtual University of Bavaria (BVU) case study

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OpenCases is a study which is part of the OpenEdu Project. It is a qualitative study consisting of a review of literature on open education and nine in-depth case studies of higher education institutions, a consortium of universities, a private organisation and a national initiative. It analysed the rationale and enabling conditions for involvement in open education, open education activities, strategies, impact, challenges and prospects. The main outcome of this study is evidence that a large number of OER have reached a large group of learners. However, completion rates of MOOCs are low. Accreditation is not formalised and in general its impact on employability is not measured.

Set up in 2000, the Virtual University of Bavaria (BVU) is a network of universities and polytechnics that includes all the higher education institutions in Bavaria -the nine universities and the 17 universities of applied sciences of the Free State of Bavaria, one of the 16 German Länder. Staff at these institutions is invited to offer free online courses to any student registered at any of the institutions within the network. The BVU provides online courses with an equivalent of two to six (ECTS) credit points that the member universities can integrate into their courses of study. By doing this, BVU helps its members enlarge and enrich their programmes and helps students to organize their studies more flexibly. The online platform offers course materials, tutoring services by experts in the subject area and assessment.

The main target group of the BVU are Bavarian students enrolled at higher education institutions in Bavaria (more than 95% of all users). Students from outside Bavaria or users who are not students can participate, paying a relatively small fee. However their numbers are very small. The main reason for this is that BVU courses are created to meet as closely as possible existing study programmes at Bavarian universities and polytechnics. They are not created to meet specific demands of people interested in further education or lifelong learning, or to provide work-related training. This is unlikely to change in the future.

The case of BVU provides an example of education-focused cooperation between state funded universities in the German state of Bavaria. While BVU does not fit all elements of open education some of its features resonate with the philosophy of open education - most notably in terms of increasing flexibility for learning. The support and pedagogical approaches employed also have relevance to open education providers, It represents a case of state coordinated and funded action in the area of online education with elements of “openness”.

Between 2000 and 2011 a total of €35.3 million were invested on the BVU and its courses and until 2013 the total public investment into BVU reached €50 million. The current annual budget of BVU is around €6 million. The bulk of this sum comes from the Bavarian state budget and other state programmes while the member universities contribute one Euro per student and semester, i.e. a total of around €0.6 million per year. This funding allows Bavarian students to take BVU courses without paying tuition fees. Income from fees from other students is marginal. This funding and business model might be put under challenge if the trends in growth of student demand increases at the same rate it has been doing in the recent past.

BVU was reported to foster cooperation between higher education institutions in Bavaria, which –in turn- was reported to produce pedagogical and cost efficiency benefits. This is especially true for smaller institutions, which are able to increase their study offer significantly using BVU courses. The BVU model based on cooperation among higher education institutions -despite of its high costs- was reported to foster the overall efficiency of the Bavarian higher education system and to reduce duplication of efforts in the area of distance and online teaching.

The full document is available online at http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC101533/jrc101533_opencases%20case%20studies%20on%20openness%20in%20education.pdf.

This extract comes from the the OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education document which states that reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. Source: Souto-Otero, M., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Shields, R., Lažetić, P., Castaño-Muñoz, J., Devaux, A., Oberheidt, S., Punie, Y. (2016) OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission. EUR 27937 EN, doi:10.2791/039825