Higher Education through Open and Distance Learning

By Keith Harry | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Open and distance learning for the new society

Keith Harry and Hilary Perraton

A generation ago, higher education was one of the fastest growing industries in Britain, along with electronics and newly discovered natural gas. Over the last decade, in many countries but by no means all, higher education has been growing more rapidly than ever, faster than the economies that support it. Open and distance learning has been part of that expansion; today, in industrialised and developing countries alike, enrolments at a distance form between 5 and 15 per cent of the total in many cases, over 25 per cent in a few. The purpose of this book is to report on that expansion, examining the ways in which open and distance learning for higher education has responded to the needs of the new society, and summarising the lessons of recent practice for policy-makers and educators. It is just that, a report: not a catalogue (where the International Centre for Distance Learning has a good one on-line) nor a recipe book (of which there are plenty) nor an academic critique (of which there are a few) but a review from which others can draw conclusions to guide practice.

It has been a turbulent decade, whose turbulence is reflected in its educational history. The collapse of communism brought a necessary reshaping to higher education in eastern Europe. The end of apartheid illuminated the need for South African education to catch up with the outside world, in its institutions as well as its philosophy. The new legitimacy given to private-sector activities in the 1980s is still washing over education. Changes in technology have been more rapid than we remember—few of us used faxes fifteen years ago—and may yet reshape education. Technological change and the forces of globalisation are dissolving frontiers in education, as they already have in culture. Open and distance learning has been influenced, along with the rest of society, by all these changes which are tracked, thematically in the first half of this book, and geographically in the second half.

Higher education has always had a symbiotic relationship with its host community and that community has always extended beyond the walls of the city or the nation. Dusty-footed wandering scholars were the precursors of the internationally mobile students, discussed in chapter 2, whose

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