Degree suits a remote location

HONG Kong is part of an international trend towards distance education, providing people with an opportunity to gain tertiary qualifications through study outside the normal institutions.

The Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong is the only local tertiary institution offering this method of education fully recognised by the Hong Kong Government.

Practised since the 19th century, distance education began to develop rapidly in the 1970s with the establishment of the Open University in the Britain.

With the electronic revolution, distance education is booming and it has now been adopted by some 600 tertiary institutions worldwide.

Distance education is being embraced by Asian nations as it provides an opportunity to increase skilled labour and produce the workforce needed for vital economic development.

However, despite its increasing importance in the region, very little is known by the public about this popular method of education. Now, academics and administrators are attempting to remedy the situation.

In China, distance education is being implemented through two approaches, by use of correspondence or the broadcast medium - television and radio.

Since the 1950s the mainland has supported a correspondence education programme as a viable means of access to study which increases the opportunities of its people.

Distance education is now considered a means of educational reform for national, economic and social development and modernisation.

Some 600,000 people are currently enrolled as correspondent students and the number in radio or television institutions exceeds 1.8 million. From 1980 to 1990 there were some two million graduates.

Japan has a history of distance education dating back to the late 19th century, but its recent development is supported by the nation's highly advanced technology with use of equipment such as satellite and computers.

The country has about 110 institutions using these method with some 150,000 students enrolled in courses.

In India, a pilot programme at the Delhi University first offered distance education in 1962.

The nation now has five Open Universities and more than 35 distance education programmes attached to conventional universities.

The total number of students enrolled in these courses has risen to 600,000.

Thailand first established a university with an open admission policy in 1933.

However, the full distance education concept started at the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University when it opened in 1978. A total of 300,000 people have graduated under the scheme.

In Australia, the method has been an integral part of its education system since the early 1900s.

There are currently about 50,000 distance education students from 500,000 enrolled in all tertiary institutions. The number of graduates has been estimated at 10,000.

Singapore is now following suit and embarked on a large initiative to offer distance education with the establishment of the Singapore Open University which will open next year.