Strategies for quality higher education in an increasingly more open and online world

ICDE arranged a seminar in Oslo, Norway, at the end of February for the leadership of Norwegian institutions to meet with ICDE Executive Committee members and other ICDE members. The event sought to bring together perspectives on open, distance and online learning from around the world with those from Norway, with emphasis on leadership, strategies and organization at the intersection of campus-based and distance education.


The seminar, organized by ICDE and the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions, in cooperation with ICDE member, Norway Opening Universities, discussed whether university leadership is ready for the digital future, as institutions combine their campus-based and online offerings. Presentations are available to download.

The responsibility of higher education

Opening the seminar, Kyrre Lekve, State Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Research, Norway noted variations in Norwegian higher education institutions. Some have only a few students studying at a distance, while others have up to 50% of their students off-campus. He called upon traditional campus institutions to open up. "It is time to take online learning and accessibility to a new scale, it is time to make it part of strategy", he said.

 Inga Bostad

Inga Bostad of the University of Oslo, Norway, called on colleagues to create strategy to recognize the connection between knowledge and values, and between academic freedom and the responsibility to make a difference.

A new model?

Frits Pannekoek of Athabasca University, Canada, underscored the challenge faced by universities to secure their reputation for excellence as budgets are cut worldwide and the need for a new, sustainable model becomes increasingly acute. It can be argued that institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offer selected free courses online as a loss leader and a means for promoting their brand, he said. Patrick McAndrew of The Open University, UK noted that his institution's OpenLearn platform, which offers free courses, justifies its existence by attracting approximately 6,000 extra paying students each year.

 Marta Mena

Marta Mena of the National Technological University, Argentina, noted that in Latin America, distance education has benefited from being rooted in campus institutions with academic prestige. Morten Flate Paulsen of the European Distance and e-Learning Network, argued that while the economic situation makes mergers and new financial models inevitable, this is a tremendous opportunity for change.

Norwegian strategies

Berit Kjeldstad of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology spoke about the pivotal role of their Centre for Continuing and Professional Development in leading distance learning strategy, and pointed to successes within social sciences, engineering, humanities and languages. She called, though, for clearer governmental policy to make all universities pull in the same direction. This was echoed by other speakers including Kristin Dahl of Norway Opening Universities who noted the need for national strategies for inter-institutional collaboration.

 Kristin Dahl

Jarle Aarbakke of the University of Tromso, Norway, pointed to successes in training nurses at a distance in the north of Norway. It is the social responsibility of a university, he argued, to provide opportunities for study in rural communities which do not have a campus close at hand. Marit Aamodt Nilsen of the University of Agder, Norway, followed up this point, emphasizing the need to prevent brain drain from the region through in-service training for teachers and nurses at a distance, but conceded that, "our future is campus".

Inga Bostad spoke of the University of Oslo's success in sustaining niche programmes such as South Asia Studies through distance education, by sharing teaching resources with other higher education institutions in the Nordic countries. Several speakers noted that these beginnings point to an opportunity for Norwegian institutions to move resources away from content creation when similar study materials are developed many times over, and more firmly towards student support.

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