Sustaining ODeL in African universities: A balancing act
As an educational approach to increasing access to learning opportunities of good quality, Open Distance and eLearning (ODeL) has become very popular the world over. This popularity is underpinned by the assumption that it is a cost-effective method as it saves money by the fact that it does not require the construction of conventional educational infrastructure while at the same time reaching a much greater number of learners irrespective of their spatial locations and time. However, the sustainability of ODeL programs is a complex undertaking and this is all the more important in Africa as most of the programs are started with seed monies, mostly grants, from donors and/or governments and which by definition have expiration dates following the logic of donor or government-driven projects and programs.
Indeed, investing in ODeL as a developmental tool in education does not come cheap. At the initial stages of implementation, ODeL comes with very high fixed, variable and recurrent costs. While some of the fixed costs incurred during the implementation phase can be amortized overtime, the variable and recurrent costs can be very taxing on the sustainability of ODeL programs in the long run. Indeed, ODeL programs, due to their popularity, do expand over time in terms of enrollment and with the expansion comes the need to hire more teaching staff to tutor students as well as develop more course materials and monitor and assess the learning of an ever-increasing body of students. Furthermore, there is the need to upgrade and maintain the IT equipment in a fast-changing technological world to ensure that instructors and students have access to state-of-the-art teaching and learning technologies and platforms. Therefore, the question is: how do universities, or any learning institution for that matter, generate income to sustain their ODeL programs?