On 19 May 2022, the UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (UNESCO IITE) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) hosted the round table “Role of Open Universities in Transforming Higher Education” within the UNESCO World Higher Education Conference (WHEC 2022) held on 18-20 May 2022 in Barcelona, Spain.
The round table was intended to bring together the representatives of higher education institutions (HEIs) from different countries and regions worldwide to discuss how open universities can lead the transformation of higher education and encourage traditional HEIs to learn from open universities in order to ensure sustainability and scalability. The event was held onsite and online.
Opening the round table, Prof. Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of COL, emphasized the profound experience of open universities in distance and blended learning aimed to contribute to the transformation of higher education:
Since the foundation of the first open university in South Africa, open universities have worked to expand access to higher education. The lessons learnt from the pandemic proved that open universities have become visionary in formulating their mission and agenda. Ensuring lifelong learning opportunities, social justice, equity and inclusion by means of blended learning has become central to their mission.
Prof. Asha Kanwar, President and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning
In his opening remark, Prof. Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE, also reaffirmed the unique role of open universities in transforming higher education:
In the time of rapid changes in the world facing unprecedented challenges, including the pandemic, higher education should transform itself and lead the transformation of the entire education system in order to meet new demands and challenges. Open universities have a unique role to play in this transformative process.
Prof. Tao Zhan, Director of UNESCO IITE
During the round table, good practices and lessons learned were presented by the representatives of Shanghai Open University (China), Indira Gandhi National Open University (India), the Open University of Catalonia (Spain), Bayero University Kano (Nigeria) and the University of South Africa (South Africa).
The round table speakers were unanimous about the need for changing the attitude of learners and governments towards open education. They emphasized the importance of construction of the bridge between traditional and distance learning universities, seamless connection between HE and TVET and more intense collaboration, as well as recognition of credits. In addition, they noted the need for open policies.