|CERES No. 104 - March - April 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)|
A course of study in a foreign university has long been a recognized route to career advancement in developing countries, but the cost of following it is often prohibitive for all but the most affluent. Bilateral and multilateral aid programmes that allocate significant amounts of their budgets for training of national counterpart staff offer another channel for those who are selected, but there is evidence that such fellowships for study abroad may also involve frustration for their recipients since such courses are geared to the more immediate needs of the project concerned, rather than to the long-term career prospects of the individual selected. A comment from an FAO review of training programmes a number of years ago summarized this point as follows: "The conflict between very understandable personal aspirations and the actual type of training required for the implementation of development projects is very often one of the biggest problems to be overcome in formulating a training programme."
Now it appears that the search for more flexible and cost effective training systems may get a boost from the micro-computer and other modern communication technologies. The result is a growing interest in the potential of off-campus study or what is now being labeled in some quarters as "distance learning". Wye College of the University of London, to cite one example, will be launching, beginning with the 1986-87 academic year, a post-graduate programme in agrarian development, designed for external students and based on distance learning.
As described by Prof. Ian Carruthers, the Wye College course will be part time with no residential requirement and with registration open to suitably qualified candidates irrespective of nationality For candidates lacking degrees recognized by the University of London, a pre-registration examination will be required. "This is not an easy option for a master's course," says Prof. Carruthers.
Students will receive packages of course materials which will include textbooks, workbooks, and cassettes. Students will undertake a number of assignments for each course, which will be posted to Wye and returned with detailed comments and an assessment. "In the medium term," says Prof. Carruthers, "we plan to include micro-computer-based learning in some of the courses, this is becoming increasingly feasible with the falling costs of hardware." He estimates that taking into account travel, residence, and fees costs, the Wye course will be only about one quarter of the cost of full time residential study.
The concept of distance training for rural development is also being promoted in Latin America both for technical cooperation within the region and for national training programmes. The FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean is planning to promote regional workshops on experiences in distance training activities and to collaborate with national institutions in defining methodology.
One Latin American country, Colombia, has already launched an off-campus programme in higher education which is integrated into the national university system. Its aim is to permit students to continue working while studying at home with specially designed materials. A network of regional centres offers examinations, tutorial assistance, laboratories, computers and other equipment. In effect, the traditional classroom instructor is in large part replaced by modern technology.
The Colombia programme has recently benefited from the award of a $37.5 million loan from the Inter American Development Bank which will be used to expand the system to handle an additional 30 000 students.