Regional support on way for open and distance education

An ‘operational network’ that stretches across the world and will offer regional support structures for open, distance and e-learning institutions was launched on the final day of the biennial conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education, or ICDE.

The council said the creation of a regional Operational Network was “in recognition of the importance of strengthening cooperation and reinforcing the impact of activities of the ICDE and its network of members globally”.

The network would offer regional support structures, strengthen the ICDE, expand its operational capacity and global insight, and “support global knowledge exchange”.

It was announced by outgoing ICDE President Tian Belawati, who leads Indonesia’s huge distance education institution Universitas Terbuka, at the 26th ICDE World Conference held in Sun City in South Africa from 14-16 October and hosted by the University of South Africa under the theme “Growing Capacities for Sustainable Distance e-Learning Provision”.

She said the network – which will come into effect in January 2016 – would help to “grow, galvanise and invigorate online and distance education regionally”.

The network

The ICDE describes itself as the world’s leading global membership organisation for open, distance, flexible and online education. Among its members in 87 countries are tertiary institutions, educational authorities, companies and individuals.

Founded in 1938 in Canada, with its secretariat having been based in Oslo since 1988, the ICDE is supported by the Norwegian education and research ministry and by membership fees.

The new ICDE Operational Network’s founding partners are:
  • • The African Virtual University, a continental intergovernmental body established by 18 African governments to expand access to quality higher education through innovative uses of technologies. Its headquarters are in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and there is a regional office in Senegal.
  • • The Swedish National Organisation for Distance Education, a professional body for people and organisations involved in distance and flexible learning.
  • • Italy’s public International Telematic University, UNINETTUNO, a distance education university founded in 2005 and based on close cooperation with traditional universities from Europe, the Arab World, the United States and Asia.
  • Universitas Terbuka, Indonesia’s only higher education institution delivering learning entirely through distance education. It has 406,000 students enrolled in more than 1,000 courses, an internal network of 39 regional offices and operations in 26 countries.
These institutions seem likely to drive the new ICDE networks in four regions identified – Africa, Asia Pacific, Mediterranean and Southern Europe, and the Baltic states.

The benefits for them are “extensive”, according to the ICDE, and include enhanced regional and global visibility, and access to the council’s extensive global network.

Gard Titlestad, ICDE secretary general, told the conference that the regional networks would enable the council to provide “a more localised, personalised, on the ground support network system and offer its members regional tailored events and resources – something that is very much needed”.