The Fifth series of the Joint National Universities Commission (NUC) and University of London (UoL) Hybrid Symposium on Policy and Practice in Open Distance and e-Learning ended recently which focused on the opportunities presented by large-scale, high-quality Open and Distance Learning (ODL)  support to education for Nigeria’s growing population. The event was a hybrid, hosted simultaneously in London and Abuja where a single venue was achieved via videoconferencing.

In his welcome remarks at the opening workshop in London, the Executive Secretary, NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, mni, MFR, FNAL, who was represented by the Deputy Executive Secretary (DES) Academics, Dr. Noel Biodun Saliu, appreciated the Open, Distance and e-learning stakeholders and in particular the Vice-Chancellors of participating Universities in Nigeria for their sustained commitment to capacity development of their staff towards up-scaling the quality of delivery of degree programmes via the Open, distance, and e-learning mode.

He noted with pride the partnership between the NUC and the University of London, which had brought about the facilitation of four capacity-building workshops in  Abuja and London with this edition being the fifth in the series.

This, he said was besides the efforts being made to integrate interested Nigerian universities into the UoL propelled transnational education framework, expected to lead to the establishment of teaching centers and parallel degree agreements in Nigerian universities.

Professor Rasheed described the theme of the symposium, “Why ODL is Still Important in the Future Development of Nigeria Higher Education,” as apt, considering the outbreak of COVID-19 in the year 2020, which exposed, unpleasantly, the unpreparedness of educational systems of many countries including the Nigerian University System (NUS) in programme delivery through ICT-enabled teaching and learning at a distance.

According to him, this realization and the attendant adverse effect of the pandemic on teaching, learning, and the general well-being of staff and students in the NUS informed the decision of the Commission to adopt the theme “Distance Learning and COVID-19”, for the last symposium held on 22nd November 2021.

He recounted that the theme at that time was also very timely and enriching, noting that the prospect of Open Distance and e-learning in Nigeria was very bright looking at the recent developments in ODL in the NUS. 

He explained that the number of Distance Learning Institutions in the NUS has increased from seven in 2013 to 18 by 2022 and that enrolment figures in the Open and Distance Education (ODE) space in the NUS has also increased from 132,434 in 2014 to 634,642 in 2021 with NOUN enrolling 584,949 and dual-mode Universities enrolling about 52,675.

This, was an indication that there has been a general improvement in terms of awareness of the benefits of ODL and in the standard of practice for all facets of ODL in the NUS.

He, however, expressed the need for all to be conscious of the Nigerian context and the circumstances of the average Nigerian when it comes to the principle of appropriate technology given the fact that technology was available in a wide range from the low-end to the high-end.

The Executive Secretary said that the overarching objective was to promote and encourage the gradual but, steady integration of Information Communication Technology (ICT) into teaching and learning in the NUS. It would sustain the tempo of building the capacities of academic staff in the nation’s ODL institutions to be sufficiently digitally savvy to upscale its practice in Nigeria.

He explained that the past was the traditional face-to-face mode of delivery, while the present included the blended mode which was already being adopted by many conventional universities globally, but the future, considering the revolution in ICT being the open, distance and e-learning.

He expressed satisfaction with the level of awareness and the very best brains in the ODL space put together for the symposium, stressing that drawing from their wealth of knowledge and experience, the time and resources expended in the FORUM  were richly rewarding.

The NUC Scribe pointed out some emerging critical areas in the field including the future of global higher education. The recent developments, and future plans for ODL in Nigerian Higher Education, including ODL Centre approvals, issues in quality assurance for ODL including assessment innovations, measuring the unmeasurable, engaging with learning gain, and technologies for ODL in Nigeria.

While appreciating the resource persons which included the Vice–Chancellor of the University of London, Professor Wendy, as well as Drs. Linda, Kate and Akan, the Executive Secretary urged them to take advantage of the opportunity to bring themselves to speed with the skills and competencies required for the development and delivery of open-distance e-learning and transnational education programmes in Nigerian higher education institutions.

In power-point presentation at the technical session in London entitled “NUC Policy and Regulations on Open and Distance Learning Centres, ” the Executive Secretary NUC, Professor Rasheed gave a detailed run down of the Nine-step Procedures for the Establishment of an  ODL in Nigeria.

He also specified the Guidelines developed by the Commission for Open and Distance Learning in Nigerian Universities which covered the areas of entry requirements ,the Nature of ODL Programmes, Delivery mode, Governance and Administration, Logistics and Utility Services, Pedagogy and Learning Resources, Open Educational Resources (OER) Policy. Others included Course Material Development and Acquisition Policy, Course Delivery Modalities, Learners Support, Staffing, Staff Development Policy, Evaluation and Assessment, Physical Facilities, ICT Infrastructure, Library, Funding and Autonomy of Centre.

Professor Rasheed further highlighted that beside the regulatory frameworks put in place by the Commission to ensure take-off by DLCs on a solid footing as well as for smooth, efficient and effective operation of the Centres. Other measures were entrenched to ensure that the quality the DLCs attain upon commencement be sustained and improved upon.

These, according to him, included the Re-Validation visit, to be performed once every five years and Post-Validation Visit to the Distance Learning Centres, a quality assurance activity usually carried out after one academic year of operation.

In another presentation titled “The Recent Developments and Future Plans for ODL in Nigerian Higher Education,” the NUC Director, Open, Distance and e-Learning (DODeL), Engr. Kayode Odedina, who gave a brief history of University education in Nigeria pointed out that the aftermath of the COVID-19 Pandemic brought about a shift in the delivery of education the world over.

He stated that the pandemic suddenly dawned it on everybody that technology-induced learning had come to stay.

He said some hitherto looked down technologies such as Zoom and many other collaborative software (e.g. Zoom Class, Google Classroom, Microsoft teams, WizIQ, Cisco WebEx etc.) came to limelight.

Engr. Odedina emphasised that one of the novelty of technology was that Assessments can be made more credible than the pen-on-paper examination. He expressed delight that many Nigerian Universities were becoming interested in dual mode delivery and willing to integrate e-learning into their academic activities.

He explained that NUC looks at expanding access through ODeL in three perspectives viz: Open and Distance Learning Mode; Transnational Education (TNE) and e-Learning.

He said, NUC had been able to license and would continue to regulate the activities of 17 Distance Learning Centres of Nigerian Universities.

Meanwhile, a Zoom Meeting set up by the University of London was used as the virtual platform for the participants at the Abuja end and both ends were able to view and communicate with each other during presentations and interactive sessions.

A total of 66 participants attended, cutting across 23 Nigerian universities and 11 staff of the Directorate of Open Distance and e-Learning. NUC participated in the hybrid event from Abuja end at  the Idris Abdulkadir Auditorium, NUC, Abuja. Others included 35 participants, comprising of four Vice-Chancellors, two Deputy Vice-Chancellors and nine Directors of Distance Learning Centres from the London end.     

The objectives of the symposium among others, include to:

•           Promote a clear understanding of the rudiments, operational modalities, and quality imperatives required for the delivery of Open and Distance Learning Degree Programmes;

•           Facilitate and strengthen the development of institutional and professional capacity in the Nigerian University System, for sustainable Open, Distance and e-Learning mode and optimization of Transnational Educational opportunities in Nigerian Universities; and

•           Provide new insight into NUC’s regulatory guidelines from UoL’s practical experience and to promote sustainable partnerships and collaborations between universities in Nigeria and the University of London.

Major highlights of the events  included presentations on: “Exploring the Future of Global Higher Education,” by a resource person from the Centre for Online and Distance Education, University of London, Professor Stephen Brown; as well as on “Measuring The Unmeasurable? Engaging with Learning Gain”, by the Director of the Careers Group, Dr. Kate Daubney.

There were also ODL Centre Showcase by the Directors of the Distance Learning Institute of University of Lagos, Professor Uchenna Udeani and the Centre for Distance Learning & Continuing Education (CDL & CEO), University of Abuja, Professor Ayuba Bello. 

Others were panel discussions bordering on Issues in Quality Assurance for ODL,” with the Chair as Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of London, Professor Mary Stiasny, OBE. Discussants of the topic  included Deputy Director, Transnational Education, NUC, Mrs. Funke Sule; Director, ABU Distance Learning Centre, Professor Sule, Ibrahim Mohammed and that of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Professor Emmanuel A. Ayodeji.

The other discussion centred on “Technologies for ODL in Nigeria,” moderated by Africa Regional Business Adviser, University of London, Dr. Akanimo Odon; and the panelists were  Deputy Director, ODL, NUC, Mrs. Hadiza Ramallan; Director, Distance Learning Centre, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), Ogbomoso, Nigeria, Professor Tayo Arulogun; Director, Distance Learning Centre, Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Nigeria,  Professor Tolu Ogunnusi and the CEO AppsFlyer, Nigeria and West Africa, Mr. Michael Zaitsev.