Outline of the Approaches to Manage Distance Education

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I wrote and presented this paper after getting an invitation from the Chief Secretary of the Ministry of Higher Education of Malaysia in 2004. The presentation was made to about 40 senior officials of the Ministry.
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   An Outline of Approachesused by the authorities of different countries inmanaging the quality assurance of distancelearning programmes: Can a viable strategy based ondistance learning be formulated tomake Malaysia a competitiveeducation hub? By: Dr. CHOW Yong Neng SEG International Bhd  yn.chow@gmail.com  - 2 - Executive Summary  There is a need to have a more precise definition of distance learningin the Malaysian context. The Quality Assurance Agency (UK)’sdefinition of distance learning which encompasses a broad spectrumof delivery modes employed by the various British institutions foroverseas academic delivery should be adopted in Malaysia. A revisionof thinking should be considered when we evaluate a programme fromthe point of view of the ‘outputs’ (which is the learning experience andopportunities) and delivery in a holistic manner rather than basingour judgement solely on the definition of the delivery mode of aprogramme.The QAA (UK) and the AUQA (Australia) both, in their different ways,make the universities in their respective countries accountable for thequality and delivery of programmes overseas. Malaysia perhaps couldleverage on the work of these agencies in streamlining the work of regulating the delivery of foreign programmes in Malaysia.The Singapore’s authorities have devised a relatively straightforwardand comparatively transparent quality assurance system that hasfostered the growth of the private higher education industry in thepast few years which saw 770 programmes being approved to beoffered there. Despite the initial hiccups, the Hong Kong’s quality agency, HKCAA managed to register 403 programmes delivered in theprivate sector and 573 programmes in the quasi-public sector. Thesefactors perhaps confer great competitive advantages to Singapore andto a lesser extent, Hong Kong.  - 3 - Like Hong Kong, the Malaysian qualifications framework should becomplemented by a revision of the present rigid regulation andrecognition criteria of the various authorities. This should address theproblems of the present system of recognition of qualifications andallow diverse entry and exit points as well as different pathways toachieve recognised qualifications that will foster lifelong learning.The Singapore’s approach in handling the recognition of foreignqualifications by emphasising on the quality of the awardinginstitutions overseas and delivery quality by distance learningdeserves considerations for adoption in Malaysia.The imminent threat and impact to the higher education sector of Malaysia by the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement onTrade in Services require that the country take stock of the currentsituation and make the necessary streamlining of the variousprocesses to enhance the competitiveness of its higher educationindustry to further seize the opportunities and counter the threats of globalisation.  - 4 - 1. Definition of Distance Learning The best definition of distance learning perhaps is given by theQuality Assurance Agency (QAA) 1 of the UK,“distance learning has been taken to mean a way of providing higher education that involves the transfer tothe student’s location of the materials that form the main basis of study, rather than the student moving to thelocation of the resource provider”.However, distance learning is a generic term used to describe a wide range of delivery methodology for tertiary institutions toprovide distance delivery of their programmes. The QAA further elaborated on 4 dimensions of distance learning: ã  Materials-based learning :Refers to all the learning resource materials made availableto the students studying at a distance and can be in printed,audio-visual, other media format, materials on the World Wide Web, and computer-based materials. ã  Programme components delivered by travelling teachers :Refers to staff of the providing institution travelling on aperiodic basis to the location of the student to delivercomponents of the programme. The delivery can be done ona scheduled basis or concentrated in a period of intensivecontact hours. ã  Learning supported locally :
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