Gajaraj Dhanarajan and Patrick Guiton
Constructing a definition for off-campus studies in the early 1980s, when many conventional universities and colleges were attempting to extend their community role through alternative delivery of education, an advisory committee of the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission in Australia made this telling statement:
Off-campus studies is a mode of teaching and learning which, for the most part, allows the student to choose the time, place and circumstances of learning. It requires the design, production and delivery of self-instructional materials and the provision for student access to educational resources designed to support independent study. 1
Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), also known as the Science University of Malaysia, launched its off-campus programme in 1971, a year after its founding as Malaysia's second university. The programme offered adult self-learners courses in the arts, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. Learning materials were print-based and intended to be self-instructional. Ten years later, in response to negative comments from students, university administrators, and government, a detailed internal evaluation of the programme was carried out. One major finding was the pedagogical weakness of the self-learning materials produced for the programme. To redress this, in early 1981 USM took the bold step of accepting the need to train its academic staff in the techniques of distance education, especially in the art of writing self-learning materials.
The early 1980s was a period when tertiary institutions all over South-east Asia were debating issues relating to the quality of university-level teaching and learning. The notion that good teaching is secondary to even poor research abilities in academic