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Financing distance education programmes in African education: a guide for sound investment

Butcher, Neil


Sadly – despite many claims to the contrary – sound and rigorous financial planning is a serious omission in several programmes and institutions seeking to harness the potential of distance education methods. The most problematic aspect of this omission is not analysis of the current or short-term running costs of a distance education programme or institution; many (but, by no means all) planners have a handle on these dimensions of distance education practice. Far less common, though, is rigorous planning for the long-term sustainability of a programme or institution. Obviously, this is problematic in any context, but it is of particular concern in contexts where financial resources are very constrained, which is usually a feature of distance education programmes in African countries.

Some financial problems are beyond the control of financial planners. For example, in many countries, even modest course fees are beyond the reach of many potential learners. Similarly, national communication systems (roads, telecommunications, postal systems) are often not sufficiently reliable or pervasive to meet the requirements of distance education provision. Beyond this, though, there are many other problems that arise from ineffective financial planning. For example:

· Face-to-face tutorial support is seen to be critical to learner success, but too expensive to implement;

· There are few reliable and sustainable strategies for making ongoing investments in course materials design and development;

· Professional development for educational and administrative staff members is sporadic and limited, resulting in   insufficient skills amongst personnel to sustain distance education systems;

· Administrative systems either do not exist or are highly underdeveloped;

· Innovation in distance education relies heavily on unsustainable sources of funding, particularly donor funding.

This paper begins by presenting a brief summary of the financial logic of distance education, drawing on references from international literature and best practice. It outlines key concepts and approaches to financial planning for distance education. Drawing on extensive research conducted in South Africa, it then explores some key mistakes that have been made in financial planning in different contexts, with a view to providing policy guidance on the best strategies to adopt in financing sustainable, high quality distance education programmes.  


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Title of Paper: Financing distance education programmes in African education: a guide for sound investment
City: Cape Town

Document Type:Conference Paper
Subject Area:Finance and Physical Resources
Country:African Continent
Keywords:Financing of Education, Distance Education, Developing countries, Financial Planning

File Size:124 KB
Date Added:17 August 2007

Butcher, Neil (2004). Financing distance education programmes in African education: a guide for sound investment Presented at the All-Africa Ministers' Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education, Cape Town, 1-4 February.