The State of Open Universities in the Commonwealth: A Perspective on Performance, Competition and Innovation

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Garrett, Richard
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Commonwealth of Learning (COL)
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The goal of this report is to critically examine one of the marvels of modern higher education: specialist open and distance learning (ODL) universities. These institutions, such as The Open University (UKOU), Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and the University of South Africa (UNISA), have pioneered radically innovative instructional and support methods, opening pathways for vast numbers of non-traditional students. In the second decade of the 21st century, how might the success of these institutions be judged? Most were founded 30–50+ years ago as public universities dedicated to ODL, in contrast to the experimentation by conventional universities that had characterised much prior ODL activity. These new institutions were charged with widening access to higher education amongst various non-traditional or under-served populations at a unit cost substantially below the norm for conventional institutions but with comparable academic quality.1 The core focus of the report is ODL universities in the Commonwealth, but examples from other countries are also considered. The report was commissioned by the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). COL was founded in 1988 to further the wide range of ODL efforts established across the Commonwealth, with a strong emphasis on ODL as a force for development. At that time, ODL was largely identified with specialist public-sector universities (e.g., UKOU, UNISA) or with regional institutions that offered both conventional and ODL programming to expansive geographies where little other higher education was available (e.g., The University of the West Indies and The University of the South Pacific).
Higher Education, Open Universities, Open and Distance Learning (ODL)
India, United Kingdom, South Africa
Africa, Europe, Asia