Support and Guidance for HEIs
136. A key responsibility for the Government, through
HEFCE, is the support and guidance needed for HEIs entering the
global e-learning market.
137. The original idea to establish the UK as a leading
player in the market for online learning, building on its international
reputation for high quality provision of HE, was widely supported
by universities and collegesmany of whom were already involved
in the provision of e-learning, both in the UK and in markets
138. Edinburgh's Interactive University (IU), for
example, has a teaching programme that, over the past 18 months,
has attracted 75,000 students from more than 23 countries.
This already includes approximately 1,200 HE studentsthis
is in comparison to the 900 UKeU students. The IU is promoting
the reputation of Scotland's leading HEIs abroad. Edinburgh University,
Aberdeen University and Heriot-Watt are all offering courses to
other countries. In contrast to UKeU, IU is a not-for-profit enterprise
and reinvests in programmes to deliver high quality education.
As noted by the Minister for Higher Education, branding will have
played its part in the success of the IU so far:
One of the reasons is certainly the one the Chairman
touched on, which is that Edinburgh is a very clear brand, people
want to be associated with it. There was no fog surrounding what
it might end up as.
139. Whatever the precise reasons for the success
of the IU, the Government, through HEFCE, is responsible for identifying
the successful practice that is operating both in the UK and abroad
and ensuring that such good practice is shared across the sector.
This Committee recommends that the Government, through HEFCE,
develop clear guidelines and methods of supporting the sector
in entering the global e-learning marketincluding
guidance and support on joint-ventures, branding, market information,
pedagogy, systems technology and any other information, advice,
guidance, and support they might need.
140. In evidence HEFCE said that they believed the
future for e-Universities was to support groups of universities
that are developing e-learning capabilities instead of having
one single e-University to develop everything. Sir Howard Newby
'That, therefore, puts individual universities or,
if you wish, small groups of universities at the forefront of
this, rather than having a single e-university attempting to develop,
market and sell on behalf of all of the sector.'
141. The Government has not yet clarified its thinking
in this area, and has not identified the lessons it has learnt
from the UKeU project.
'I have to admit to this committee that I am still
very unclear about this particular project, UKeU. I think we have
learned some lessons from it but, whether or not we are going
to become great world players, if indeed there are going to be
great world players in this area, which I think is a different
matter altogether, we ought to have enough humility to ask ourselves
if the original idea, exciting though it was, was not a little
142. The Government clearly does need to draw lesson
from what has happened with UKeU. The most harmful outcome for
the UK would be for the failure of UKeU to put off other collaborative
ventures in e-learning. The global e-learning market is currently
estimated to be worth £18 billion.
We recommend that the Government, through HEFCE, clarifies
how it intends to invest in and support collaborative ventures
in e-learning both across the HE sector, and between the FE and
HE sector, in a way that provides equal opportunity and advantage
to all those who would wish to be involved in the global market
143. A recent report from the Higher Education Policy
Institute (HEPI) concluded that the future of e-learning in the
UK lies in the need for a bottom-up development of blended learning
within departments inside our HEIs. The report found that it was
the human infrastructure that was the most important part of e-learning
strategies within HEIsnot the technology. It was essential
that academics had ownership of progress in e-learning within
their departments and key individuals were given the opportunity
to drive things forward. It also recognised a the force from 'student
pull' as IT literate students enter HE with certain expectations.
The report concluded:
'A revolution is under way, and nearly all HEIs in
the UK are part of it. Given clear aims, good advice, appropriate
help, professional work, and a paced approach, rapid progress
should be made. The UK has learnt from its past: the grand initiative
era is over. An HEI needs good appropriate pedagogy, sound professional
resource, and appropriate planning structures for eL within a
coherent institutional framework and infrastructure. It must enunciate
that framework for itself and implement it though local infrastructure
and with national advice. The role of national bodies is to ensure
that such advice is appropriately available, and that those working
in eLearning can learn from the experience of others.'
144. The findings of this inquiry concur with HEPI's
conclusions. Whilst recognising the important role the Government
has to play in providing support, information and guidance for
e-learning to develop within HEIs, we conclude that the Government's
role in providing an overarching national strategy for e-learning
is vital to ensure consistency, coherence, and clarity of purpose
in developments across the sector. The Government, through HEFCE,
must clarify its national strategy for developing e-learning in
the UK and how it intends to invest in and support e-learning
across the HE sector in a way that provides coherent progress.