The tuition’s okay, but don’t expect a prof

Canadian universities are agog after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yesterday announced what appears to be a world first: It is making most of its course materials available to the public through the Internet — for free.

The Globe and Mail
April 5, 2001

The tuition’s okay, but don’t expect a prof
MIT puts its knowledge on Web for free, and Canadian universities are impressed
Sean Fine

Canadian universities are agog after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology yesterday announced what appears to be a world first: It is making most of its course materials available to the public through the Internet — for free.

MIT's generous plan swims against the current that sees knowledge as private property and the Internet as a way to make money by attracting on-line, fee-paying students.

The renowned university — where annual tuition is about $39,000 — expects that people and schools all over the world will take advantage of its course lists, lecture notes and even videotaped lectures.

"We're trying to share our knowledge," MIT spokeswoman Patti Richards said. "Imagine if you want to start giving engineering courses in Africa — well, here's a template for you."

MIT will unleash material from more than 2,000 courses across the entire curriculum — in architecture and planning, engineering, humanities, arts, social sciences, management and science.

The material will become available over the next 10 years, at an estimated cost of up to $100-million (U.S.) to the school.

The move is in direct contrast to the Canadian trend for controlling information.

"A lot of institutions have been very hung up on intellectual-property rights," said Alan Wright, executive director of the office of instructional development and technology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, which does make some course materials freely available without promoting the fact.

"A lot of professors are very much afraid that once they start putting their stuff out in the public domain all over the world, they lose control over what they have developed."

But the MIT move is turning heads in Canada, he said. "I think it may have a spinoff effect. There are going to be a lot of university boardrooms in the next few weeks that say, 'What do we do about this MIT initiative?"

At the University of Calgary, Tom Keenan, the dean of continuing education, called it "a bold move. It's exactly what MIT should be doing. It is possibly going to start a ripple effect."

At the University of Toronto, senior administrators involved in an "E-learning" task force have been talking about the free availability of academic materials.

"What's underpinning this is a belief that access to knowledge is a right that should be available to everyone," said Sheldon Levy, the university's vice-president for government and institutional relations. "We started to think of exactly the same thing almost at the same time."

He added that, as a publicly funded institution, the University of Toronto intends to play a lead role "in thinking through those issues."

Though no one seems to doubt MIT's social conscience, the privately funded institution — considered by many to be the world's pre-eminent technology university — may well reap a public relations bonanza.

The news was welcomed enthusiastically by Internet users. "Wow," said Elizabeth Leach, a health-care consultant in Toronto. "I can't believe they're doing it for free." She said it means she can obtain information "at a higher level than what's normally on the Internet."

Despite its sweeping plan, MIT doesn't expect to lose students. "Nothing is going to take the place of sitting in a classroom and being taught by this faculty," Ms. Richards said.


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Access to knowledge is a right, Free academic materials, Canada, 20010405 The tuitions

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License