Earlier this week, open courseware purveyor Coursera sent out messages to students in Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan telling them they would no longer be able to access courses hosted on the site, citing federal regulators, who determined that Coursera and other MOOCs are services that cannot be legally offered in countries under economic sanctions. As Inside Higher Ed reports:
First, it appears as if the output of MOOCs has been defined by the US state as tradable “services” versus “information” in the US Treasury sanction documents for Iran and Syria, and in this Coursera note. Given this, the content of MOOCs mediated and propelled by US-registered MOOC platforms cannot be transmitted into said territory for they break sanction rules. Keep in mind that the broader regulatory context here regarding GATS and the trade in services (including education services).
It’s not clear that these MOOC bans will last very long. The FT notes that edX has already applied for and received licenses to offer courses in Cuba and Iran, and Coursera is now working on obtaining similar licenses for its classes. Given the close working relationship that Coursera and the State Department have shown in the past, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them get licenses too.We hope it doesn’t take long. Blocking the citizens of these countries from receiving an open-source education is extremely misguided policy, particularly given that access to other information-based services like Twitter is not only allowed but actually encouraged by the State Department as a tool to undermine the ability of repressive regimes to control the flow of information.None of this is to say that we’ve given up our skepticism of Twitter’s allegedly magical liberating or democratizing power—that’s a separate issue. In this case, we think that keeping Cubans from educational resources serves no purpose, and works against many of our other efforts to encourage openness in these countries. We hope the federal government grants all the MOOCs a free pass as soon as possible.