Mexico's Largest University to Post Online Nearly All Publications and Course Materials

November 13, 2011

The National Autonomous University of Mexico, better known as UNAM, has said it will make virtually all of its publications, databases, and course materials freely available on the Internet over the next few years—a move that some academics speculated could push other universities in the region to follow suit.

Campus officials at UNAM, Mexico's largest university, said the program, known as All of UNAM Online, could double or triple the institution's 3.5 million publicly available Web pages, as the largest collection of its kind in Latin America.

They also said it was key to UNAM's social mission as a public institution: providing educational resources to populations usually underrepresented in the university system—really, to anyone who desires access to them.

"As the national university, we must assume a national mission and give back to society what we are doing with its financial support," said Imanol Ordorika, a professor of social sciences and education at UNAM and a key force behind the effort. "That means providing open access and being accountable and transparent."

Mr. Ordorika said the university has set no specific goal as to how many Web pages will be made available or a fixed budget for bringing the endeavor to fruition.

But he said it would include all magazines and periodicals published by UNAM, and, if negotiations with outside publishers went well, all research published by UNAM employees.

He also said the university would provide online access to all theses and dissertations as well as materials for its approximately 300 undergraduate and graduate courses.

Experts from outside Mexico said those two components alone would make the venture a milestone in the region.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology makes 2,000 courses freely available online as part of its OpenCourseWare program. Stanford University plans to offer up to 200 courses as part of a similar effort. But no university in Latin America has tried anything that ambitious.

Nor do most universities in the region offer open access to theses and dissertations. Brazilian regulations, for example, oblige public universities to post theses and dissertations online, but online users generally cannot copy, print, translate, index, or carry out other functions on the documents that could enhance their ability to further research. In permitting those activities, UNAM appears to be a regional leader.

"If UNAM can do everything it proposes, this will be a very big step," said Carolina Rossini, the coordinator of the Open Education Resource Project, a program supported by the Open Society Institute to promote open access and open-educational resources in Brazil. "It will fulfill part of the public university's mission to benefit society beyond those who are enrolled or affiliated with the university."

Some experts have wondered whether UNAM's push will spur similar endeavors throughout Mexico and Latin America and energize the case for open access in the region, much as MIT's OpenCourseWare program did in North America some 10 years ago.

For Brian Lamb, a strategist at the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at the University of British Columbia, an additional question is whether the move to open access would change learning and teaching at UNAM.

"I would be fascinated to see if people from outside the university are able to start commenting [on courses] and whether instructors and students respond to how people from outside the institution conduct their education," he said.