Motives for distance education

Open universities have engaged in such a wide range of activities besides research and teaching adult higher education that Alan Tait concluded that ‘what remains constant is the development function and I suggest that it is helpful to define the purposes of an open university in this way’ (Alan Tait, ‘What are open universities for?’, Open Learning, 23, 2, 2008, pp. 85 – 93 (p. 93)). 

Many take the view that educational institutions, especially those funded by the state or corporations, are part of the system and are likely to reflect the values of that society’s leaders. For example, ‘countries with large immigrant populations, like Canada and the United States, developed forms of education to inculcate newcomers into the social, cultural and economic norms of the day’ (Jennifer Sumner, ‘Serving the system: a critical history of distance education’, Open Learning, 15, 3, 2000, pp. 267-285 (p. 274)). UNISA, the University of South Africa, segregated from 1948 and there were inequitable racial quotas, most of the teaching staff were Afrikaner, graduation ceremonies and residential schools were segregated and a racist curriculum was used to promote the Afrikaner identity (M. Boucher, Spes in Arduis: a History of the University of South Africa. University of South Africa, Pretoria, 1973).

In the USSR 60 per cent of their engineers had got their degrees in part from distance teaching used which also supported the creation of a cadre of Communist functionaries, ‘in Russia there is little alternative to the heavy-handed instructive documentaries’ (Stuart Hood, ‘Dangers of educational television’, The Times, 22 September 1967. The article is an extract from his book, A survey of television, Heinemann, London, 1967). According to the USSR  ‘correspondence education costs less than the training of specialists…[However] this policy is in comlete accord with the tasks of the present phase of the comprehensive building of communism’ (I. Tul’Chinskii, ‘Economics of higher education’, Soviet Education November 1964, 7, 1, pp45-50 (p49)).

In 1972 a national distance university was established in Spain which promoted a Castilian curriculum and provided no concessions to the Basque and Catalan languages or regional autonomy. Following regime change in 1975 Catalan became an officially recognized language in Spain. In 1995 the Catalan regional government created the Open University of Catalonia, which was committed to being ‘rooted in the cultural, social, and linguistic reality of Catalonia, while remaining open to the world’ (see J. L. Garcia Garrido, ‘The Spanish UNED: One way to a new future’, in R. Reddy Ram (ed.), Open universities, the ivory towers thrown open Oriental University Press, London,1988, pp. 200–214 (p. 214) and Albert Sangrà, ‘A new learning model for the information and knowledge society: the case of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UoC) Spain’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 2, 2, 2002, p. 4). 

How useful is it to categorise the OU in terms of national political identity? This is an issue that the book will aim to address.


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