Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Open University of ....... Mauritius

In between the year 2000 to 2005, the concepts of open learning and technology-enhanced learning were on the political agenda of the government. The first such initiative in terms of technology-enhanced learning was the very successful initiative called the Mass Computer Proficiency Project (CPP) that was targeted at making mass training in basic information technology in a bid to sustain the strategic objective of making Mauritius a cyber-island. The initiative was later enhanced, but within the same goal through the Universal IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification) in 2005. The pedagogical philosophy behind the CPP and IC3 courses was based on the “learning-by-doing” approach and “learning IT through IT” which meant that contents were made available in digitized form comprising of multimedia and hypermedia elements. At the same time during the 2000-2005 period, the government came up with the idea of an open-learning institute which would be fundamentally absorb the Mauritius College of the Air. The idea later evolved into that of an Open University in 2005 but it never came into operation, until a revamped bill was presented in 2010 in Parliament. A study of the bill reveals that the third public university of Mauritius is essentially a University on its own with more or less the same structure and functioning. The only or major difference is that this university will focus on flexible learning, open learning through distance learning and that this university is supposed to have a ‘thinner’ structure than the other two public universities. The question of distance learning as it regains momentum when the concept of Open University is debated retains the attention. Why do we not call “Open” universities as “Distance” universities instead? Is open learning same as distance learning? Of course not! But many of us will no doubt find an automatic association of open-learning to distance-learning and vice-versa. The other term that is often associated with open learning and distance learning is lifelong learning. While distance learning reflects more to the mode of delivery of content and the delocalized and asynchronous type of interaction between the learner and the teacher, the terms open, lifelong and flexible learning mainly reflect of mode of education. The mode of education is often confused with the mode of delivery of learning content. The mode of delivery of content for open, lifelong and flexible learning can very much be traditional face-to-face classroom-based lectures while the mode of delivery for distance learning can be printed manuals, digitized content on CD/DVD, websites and so on.

Open learning basically puts the emphasis on two major concepts, namely that of access and flexibility. This means that access to education and training is provided to those, who in a traditional setting would not be in a position to afford (financial, professional or social constraints) getting to full-time education or to attend scheduled classes at well-defined specific times. Access is also related to those who lack formal entry requirements on courses but who have years of working experience which can be used as recognition to compensate the lack of formal entry requirements to their desired study field. Open learning also provides the flexibility to those who want to study at their own pace and who only want to get a certain specific knowledge about a specific subject without the hassle of official enrolment and sitting for exams. Over the recent years, open education has taken yet another dimension, that of free education, but mostly in an informal mode of learning. What has emerged as open educational resources, are basically courseware released by known universities like the MIT and Open University of the UK, where anyone can ‘enroll’ without the payment of any fees and follow the courses on their own. 

Open Universities are mainly appropriate where the base market is quite large as such universities become cost-effective by making economies of scale. India, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and Canada, for instance, have successfully implemented such initiatives. Moreover, the customer base of these universities more precisely the UNISA (South Africa) and IGNOU (India) span internationally. The cost of access to these universities is also quite low compared to other traditional universities. The funding mechanism of these universities need to be also effective, unless they are fully funded through public funds, which in the longer term and difficult economic situations may prove to be less sustainable. Mauritius, on the other hand, with respect to its size, geographical location and economic capability will definitely face much bigger challenges than the other open universities.