Equity and access to higher education through open and distance/online learning

In this blog post I am focusing on the key theme of the BUKA project, the promotion of equity and access to higher education through open and distance/online learning. In 2010 I began working on open education, online, undergraduate programmes with an open access entry policy and flexible progression routes in Dublin City University (DCU). It did not take long for me to be completely won over to principles of open education and widening participation in higher education as I worked with learners who would not have been able to pursue their educational goals without a flexible, online, open access option. Any number of reasons can cause an individual to not be in a position to take up full-time or even part-time on-campus study, for example: lifeload issues such as those relating to employment or caring responsibilities; geographical location; or disabilities. I firmly believe in removing the barriers that block entry to, and successful participation in, higher education. This open education work aligns with DCU’s institutional strategy of changing lives and societies, specifically in the area of widening participation, as well as (Irish) national and European Union objectives for increasing participation in higher education, especially in adult learners. Although, it has to be said these objectives often do not match up with the resourcing of open education, for example in Ireland my online learners are defined as part-time even if taking a full-time equivalent credit load, and are blocked from receiving the public funding and financial supports they would be entitled to if they studied full-time on-campus.

Image by analogicus on Pixabay

One of the best aspects for me of participating in the BUKA project was to be able to join a community of colleagues in Finland, Malaysia, The Philippines, and Indonesia who are as invested as I am in providing, and improving provision of, equitable access to higher education through high quality distance/online learning. The ambitious projects being pursued by the project partners involve many innovative approaches to: building staff capacity in inclusive learning design approaches; using learning analytics to improve student success; addressing gender gaps in higher education participation; and developing technological infrastructure solutions to the issue of geographically remote, disadvantaged learners’ access to higher education. These are only some examples of project goals and I have learned so much from watching the projects develop and from being able to place my own local practice in a more global context.