How should governments and educational authorities such as universities ensure the provision of educational material such as textbooks? Using the logic of public goods theory I argue the that best access regime for educational materials is not the default copyright regime but when resources are licensed open for re-use by anyone. Since educational materials are neither scarce nor consumed by use, and using digital technologies they may be almost costless reproduced and shared the most economically efficient use is when educations resources are unrestricted. Public goods theory suggest that governments can either use tax generated revenue to pay for a public good or offer exclusive control over a good, for example through copyright.
Current systems for government procurement of educational resources impose costs, prevent teachers and students from getting resources that they need and it prevent them from using those resources that they get in some ways that would be useful for teaching and learning. They also hinder innovation. Although public monies are expended neither government nor public acquire any lasting asset.
Public procurement policy should treat educational resources as public capital goods rather than private consumable goods. Where textbooks are bulk purchased with funds from the public purse the procurement process can be restructured to require that the textbooks are licensed under an appropriate open licence. This will not require increased levels of funding since the change will free the components of the consolidated value chain increasing competition. The resulting open educational resources will constitute intellectual infrastructure on which competitors are free to innovate.
When educational resources are made open that harnesses the self organizing power of the market. Innovation by competitors and innovation by users both follow because the transaction costs inhibiting innovation are reduced to close to zero. If the move to open educational institutions is not made now, the effects of the technological change will be that control over educational resources is even more concentrated in the hands of technology vendors or publishers, or more likely an amalgamation of technology vendor and publisher.