OUC's Plans for Meeting Educational Demands of the 21st Century

Josep Planell
October 23
Amelia Taylor-Hochberg

As educational institutions grapple with coordinating teaching in the classroom and online, technology offers new opportunities for students to individualize their learning experience. Accessing university-level training and degrees entirely online makes it easier for anyone to become a “life-long learner” while also balancing their unique demands of work and family. The Open University of Catalonia (OUC), founded in 1995 as a fully-online university, was premised on these ideals of accessibility and individualization. 

Josep Planell, the president of the Open University of Catalonia, recently gave an xTalk on 10/22: “From Distance Universities To Universities Without Distances”. Planell discussed the university’s plans for meeting educational demands of the 21st century, while prioritizing the student experience at its center.

A University without distance
During the 1990s, Spain adopted a share of social welfare policies meant to encourage participation in higher education. OUC emerged from this context, and as the very first fully-online university, saw potential in how the internet could change not only the business of education, but the basic pedagogical structure as well. Planell suggested that, as economies have changed from industrial to informational, educational models must also shift. What are the roles of universities when the internet can provide information on demand?

Life-long learners
While the technological landscape of education has changed drastically in the last 20 years, so has the student population. Jobs are emerging at a rate that degrees can’t reflect, and people are pursuing education at varying times in their life — including while they’re working, or raising a family. Planell frequently referred to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of Quality Education, which is focused on providing equal access to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education by 2030. OUC is also motivated by the current unmet demand for university education within Europe — he estimated that by 2030, 400 million people will be seeking tertiary education. By Planell’s count, this necessitates offering quality online education.

How OUC works
Students engage in face-to-face sessions with professors, who deliver information directly to students. Their online profiles are stocked with tools and resources for research, as well as means of teaching support, and spaces specifically for communication with other students. Learning objectives are organized around “challenges” that each student completes, and then receives personal feedback from instructors. Because a key facet of OUC’s student population is their limited time (93% are also working), they are allowed to manage their resources at their own pace. In studies that compare online-only education to traditional models, students were found to have higher competencies in autonomous learning, teamwork, time management, determination and tenacity, among others.

Focus on the global
OUC is hoping to expand its offerings globally, and assure that anyone has access to education. This includes developing a scholarship program specifically for refugees, and working to ensure access to disabled persons. Overall, OUC strives to consider education from the point of view of the student, not the institution’s. The technology exists for delivering quality education online — it just needs to be made accessible.

Amelia Taylor-Hochberg

Amelia Taylor-Hochberg, MCP '19