I am delighted to be here with you today, as you start the first Conference on Research in Distance and Adult Learning in Asia (CRIDALA 2000). I congratulate the Open University of Hong Kong and its Centre for Research in Distance and Adult Learning (CRIDAL) for this endeavour. I am told that the conference will focus primarily on Asia, but the participants, over 100, have come from all over the world --- the subject is surely of global importance. Let me therefore add a word of welcome to the overseas participants. I wish you a pleasant stay in Hong Kong and fruitful deliberations at the conference.
The operating environment for open and distance learning (ODL) is very different from the traditional tertiary environment to which most academics are accustomed. I had an opportunity to learn something about ODL during the visit of the Research Grants Council to the Open University last August. The visit was organised, at the request of the Secretary for Education and Manpower, to gain an overall understanding of the research policy, culture, infrastructure and activities in OUHK, and to review and comment on the research capability of the OUHK in relation to its role and mission. We learnt much about the research activities in distance and adult learning. Today marks my second close encounter, and I am sure I will learn even more.
Changes in demography, developments in information technology including tele-communications, new thinking on pedagogy and new institutional or organisational policy are radically altering the concepts of what it means to be a student, to learn, to teach and to be a teacher. It seems to me that there are now three types of players on the scene, as far as providers are concerned.
First, there are traditional distance providers such as OUHK, which know this sector best, and which are well experienced in the modes of delivery and the management of these courses.
Secondly, traditional universities are drifting towards some form of distance education, either within their normal curriculum (e.g., using the web in various ways), or in extensions to their regular curriculum (e.g., MBA programs extending towards executive education). Nevertheless, these offerings, though at a distance, would still be typically within the same city, because they are almost invariably supplemented by face-to-face tutorials or discussions.
But a third group of providers are emerging --- those who market their courses to truly distant locations. In Hong Kong, we have seen an influx of overseas institutions offering their programs here. Some are manifestly of dubious quality; others are offered under prestigious brand names.
It is therefore a question as to how the different players can complement each other, how they will compete, and how they can collaborate.
In this globalised economy there are perhaps no more than twenty or so automobile manufacturers, in reality no more than two commercial aeroplane manufacturers, in effect only one dominant producer of office software (perhaps soon to be broken into two). All consumers buy their products at a distance. So there is the extreme view that the reach of technology is such that, in time, there will only be a handful of higher educational providers in the whole world, and all consumers will buy from them at a distance. Those who aspire to be among the dominant players are scrambling for market share. Others are worried about the threat of imports, and debating whether, if you can't lick 'em, you should join 'em --- thus we have seen local universities, especially their extramural or continuing education units, marketing or even operating courses from overseas institutions.
This scenario throws up a number of very important issues for open and distance education, not only for institutions such as OUHK, but for all providers of higher education. The more obvious ones revolve around technology, the effectiveness of different...
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