Table of Contents

  • This report sets out plans for a Commonwealth institution to promote co-operation in distance education to be called the Commonwealth of Learning. Its purpose is to respond to the needs of human resource development through co-operative activity which will widen access to educational opportunity for students, will extend the range of programmes available to those who need them, will improve quality through the sharing of resources, will seek cost-effective solutions to large-scale educational needs and will focus on governmental and individual needs of high priority. This will be achieved by means of co-operative activities in distance education.

  • We were invited by the Commonwealth Secretary-General to serve as a working group with the following terms of reference: (a) To consider and make recommendations about appropriate arrangements for the creation of a Commonwealth institution to promote co-operation in distance education, in accordance with the decisions of Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Vancouver in October 1987. (b) To report to the Commonwealth Secretary-General by 30 June 1988.

  • Our recommendations are directed towards the establishment of a Commonwealth institution to promote co-operation in distance education as called for by Heads of Government. The institution will help Commonwealth countries to develop in a cost-effective way their facilities for distance learning in order to enhance educational opportunity as a means of assisting their social and economic development, particularly human resource development, and will strengthen their key institutions. The arrangements will depend for their success on tapping the experience and expertise of educational bodies throughout the Commonwealth but will in turn contribute to their institutional development.

  • To perform these functions the Commonwealth of Learning will require a structure which provides for that measure of central direction of policy and of its decentralised activities necessary for coherence and efficiency. At the same time, that same structure needs to be capable of creating and maintaining effective and harmonious relationships between the Agency itself and the institutions at grass-roots level that will form the network of participating organisations. In addition to the links with universities and colleges the Commonwealth of Learning will need to develop relationships for specific projects or activities with organisations of a different kind including multinational corporations, other multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation and United Nations Development Programme, and also trusts and foundations.

  • The established convention is for Commonwealth institutions to be established by means of a Memorandum of Understanding between governments and it is proposed to follow this convention for the Commonwealth of Learning. Appendix A is a draft Memorandum. This sets out the functions of the Agency and, once agreed, will give it a legal personality and a legal framework for its activities.

  • We have considered both the type of staff to be appointed to the Agency for the Commonwealth of Learning and the principles that should guide staffing.

  • In considering the accommodation and services needed we have assumed that the activities of the Commonwealth of Learning will be decentralised as far as possible. Where the Agency is developing or commissioning materials, much of the work will be undertaken at locations away from the headquarters office. As far as possible it will promote direct exchange between Commonwealth institutions.

  • The Agency's programmes will derive from its purpose and functions, and the priorities they entail (see section 2). In the light of these we are led by the assessment of human resource development needs reported by the Briggs committee, and by our own experience, to suggest certain important activities on which the Commonwealth of Learning could usefully embark. We believe they meet the criteria of appropriateness to socio-economic conditions, considerations of sustainability, relevance to the development priorities of member countries and the existing state of their communication technology, the need to develop institutional capacity, and the enhancement of impact through possibilities open to the Commonwealth of Learning.

  • If our report commends itself to governments the first step in implementing their decision to establish the Commonwealth of Learning will be the acceptance by governments of a Memorandum of Understanding establishing the constitution and governing structure of the Agency (see paras 26-35). We hope that Governments will find it possible to signify their agreement to our report by the end of July and that the Memorandum of Understanding will have been formally adopted by September 1988.

  • The Agency will maintain a central fund into which voluntary contributions from Commonwealth governments, and contributions from other organisations and agencies both public and private, will be paid. Separate funds will also be maintained, as appropriate, for specific collaborative projects to which governments, international agencies, and other public and private sector bodies may make contributions. As noted in para 34 there will be an annual budget approved by the Board from which the costs of headquarters administration, and of operations established in Vancouver and elsewhere will be met, including programmes in support of institutions.