The process of political and economic change in Central and Eastern Europe in the early 1990s was met by the academic community in these countries with overwhelming enthusiasm and great expectations concerning the opening of their societies towards Western countries, and particularly towards European integration. Higher education seemed especially well positioned to play a flagship role in the development of East-West cooperation and European integration: the difference between the university spheres of developed countries and Eastern Europe was certainly less than, for example, differences between the industrial or commercial sectors in these countries. The countries of the European Union were quick to offer support, to be delivered under a multi-sector programme known as PHARE. The first assistance projects within PHARE started in the field of higher education cooperation (TEMPUS). The projects were successful in rapid mobilisation of partnerships and the establishment of several substantial interinstitutional educational development programmes.
These developments sent the message to the higher education sector in Central and Eastern Europe that the intention of the European Communities was that higher education should take the lead in cooperation with European Union member-states and that universities could be expected to play an outstanding role in the transformation of society and economy.
Distance education was clearly very appropriate for Central and Eastern Europe. Fast, flexible and efficient, it could be used to provide high quality training in a wide range of professional fields, for a large number of learners, including those in employment. Distance education—apart from a few isolated attempts—did not have a real background in the countries of the region, but has rapidly become well known among leading educationalists. The challenge to deploy it comprehensively has been a prominent theme in educational policy reforms during the last decade.