Facilitating Equitable Access and Quality Education for Development: South African International Distance Education

Oct 2016 - Mar 2019

International Distance Education (IDE) can provide a vehicle for achieving sustainable development, particularly equitable access to quality education for all that addresses the skills requirements of the labour market. It aims to understand the factors affecting IDE in South Africa (SA), a major regional provider of IDE in Africa, and to explore demand side factors in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Nigeria – three major users of SA’s IDE.

Lesotho is classified as an LDC (Least Developed Countries) and has a very small Higher Education (HE) sector. Zimbabwe is by far the largest user of SA’s IDE but its geopolitical context makes it a special case and perhaps not indicative of other SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries. Nigeria is the most important non-SADC user of South Africa’s IDE. As a large country with a well-developed HE sector the project will provide insights into why Nigerian students use SA’s IDE. Comparisons will be made with local Distant Education (DE) and HE take up to see the socioeconomic and demographic profile of these students in comparison to IDE students.

The IDEAS project argues that international higher education, properly devised, can become a route for development in countries of the global South - focusing on two areas vital to the future success of IDE in Africa: equality of access to education, and the quality of that education. The research will investigate and provide answers to questions, such as: (1) Can IDE generate equitable access to students from across the continent? (2) How can the quality of IDE be assessed? (3) What are the retention and/or graduation rates for students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds? (4) What improvements can be made to create better student outcomes?

This project has been designed to address an immediate and pressing problem in the African HE landscape. It comes at a time when the gap in African HE provision is gaining recognition, and the need to fill this gap is reflected in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4, which calls for "inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all", a strategy designed to help eliminate poverty by 2030. As a consequence, impact is at the heart of this research project; in addition to various contributions to theory, policy and practice in HE, IDE and sustainable development, particularly in Africa, but also globally.

This project is funded by the ESRC. The IDEAS team includes Principle Investigator Parvati Raghuram, and Researcher Associates Jenna Mittelmeier, Katharine Reedy, Bart Rienties, and Jekaterina Rogaten.