The BUKA (Better Universities and Knowledge for All) Conference 2023 marked the culmination of the global BUKA project which began in February 2020 with the goal of increasing fairness and access to higher education through open and distance learning (ODL).
The conference, held at WOU’s main campus, drew nearly 70 participants from the BUKA project’s eight-member institutions: Universitas Negeri Padang, Universitas Terbuka Indonesia, Mindanao State University – Illigan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT), University of the Philippines Open University, Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) Finland, and Dublin City University (DCU) Ireland, Open University Malaysia and WOU.
In her welcome speech, WOU Chief Executive and Vice Chancellor, Prof Dr Lily Chan, acknowledged that access to education is only the starting point and stressed the importance of supporting students to successfully complete their studies.
On the use of technological tools in learning, she highlighted WOU’s digital learning platform, “Our learning management system, FlexLearn, is regularly updated with latest content and incorporated with interactive elements to make learning engaging and interesting for our students.”
The conference opened with a panel discussion on “What Will the Next Five Years Bring to Open and Distance Education in Southeast Asia?” participated by Prof Chan; Prof Mark Brown, Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at DCU; and Prof Dr Gaudencio C. Petalcorin Jr, Vice-Chancellor for Research and Extension at MSU-IIT.
BUKA Project Lead, Dr Hanna Teras, from TAMK facilitated conversations that revolved around lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, capacity building, digital learning and new technologies, and microcredentials in the discussion on the future of ODL in Southeast Asia.
Sharing her experience in leading WOU during the pandemic, Prof Chan emphasised the importance of staff capacity building and also highlighted challenges faced by the sudden shift to fully online learning. She emphasised the need for faculty and support staff to be trained in digital tools and new technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI).
Prof Chan further added that ODL practitioners need to explore new channels and ways to demonstrate that ODL is not in competition with traditional face-to-face educational institutions but serves a distinct audience. She said, “Our pipeline comes from a different audience, and we must establish ODL as the preferred mode of delivery for this group of students.”
From a Philippine perspective, Prof Petalcorin highlighted the potential of ODL in enhancing access to tertiary education. “ODL, when properly embraced and supported, may be a solution to the country’s high demand for higher education,” he added.
He is optimistic that in five years, higher education institutions will have adapt to technologies that have been shown to be effective in driving societal change. ODL can be integrated with generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, and that micro-credentials will become more prominent in the future to satisfy the need for accessible education, he suggested.
Prof Brown talked about the potential ODL institutions has to offer through microcredentials, pointing out that traditional universities are not viewing microcredentials as integral components of a committed credential ecosystem but rather as alternatives.
Additionally, he also drew attention to the significant impact generative AI will have on future employment and income distribution. He hopes that in the next five years, every nation on the planet will recognise education as an essential human right.
Over 20 engaging presentations on pertinent topics such as digital access, learning design, capacity building, and student engagement and support were delivered throughout the two-day conference on 17 and 18 October 2023.
On 19 October 2023, a final management meeting was convened to share post-conference reflections, review the evaluation report, and deliberate on future plans beyond the project.
The three-year BUKA project, that began in February 2020, is supported by the European Union’s Erasmus+ program, which promotes education, training, youth, and sports. It aims to increase capacity in inclusive instructional design (ID) and learning analytics (LA), as well as improve students’ learning engagement, active learning, and study skills using ID and LA-based interventions.