Is ODeL an Equalizer in Performance between Distance Learners and On-Campus Students? The Jury is still out
Universities the world over are very anxious about their institutional reputation for quality and relevant education as it is the only currency for attracting academically talented students. By the same token, they maintain their standing in a very competitive global higher education market. To recruit their students, universities have set more or less stringent academic performance criteria for admission in their programs. These criteria could be certain grades obtained during end of secondary education examinations and/or entry tests imposed by the institutions. In many instances, the entry qualification has become the only variable for admitting students as it has become widely accepted as a good predictor for success in a student’s academic career. As a result, many people who have performed below the set standards or entirely failed the tests and exams find themselves rejected from an opportunity for acquiring higher education.
However, the advent of open distance education and eLearning (ODeL) through open universities and dual-mode learning institutions have opened up new opportunities for many people who could not hitherto meet the admission criteria to have access to higher education stamped by prestigious universities. Many open universities, for instance, do not require formal qualifications or entry tests for undergraduate degrees. This situation, however, presents challenges to the long-held assumption that a strong academic performance prior to university is the only and most reliable predictor of success for students. Indeed, many within the academia have voiced concern over the reputational risk associated with lowering the standards for distance education students. A growing body of research has now emerged to investigate this issue and there is increasing evidence that other variables other than great performance on entry qualification could enter into play to determine academic access.