Members of an Australian institute for research on distance education, based at the University of New England, have hosted the first visit from their South American colleagues in the “Southern Skies Distance Education Academic Exchange” project.
Funded by the Australian Government’s Council on Australia Latin America Relations (COALAR), the project promotes academic exchange between the four Australian universities collaborating as “DEHub” (Distance Education Hub) and four educational institutions in South America.
“The visit enabled the exchange of knowledge, experiences, and examples of best practice in distance education,” said the Director of DEHub, UNE’s Professor Belinda Tynan. “It established links between the two regions, and facilitated capacity building in the participating institutions.”
“DEHub is a Commonwealth-funded research institute focused on developing, facilitating and disseminating information on best practices in distance education for the higher education sector,” Professor Tynan explained.
The visiting scholars were from the Brazilian Association for Distance Education, the Online and Distance Education Centre at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Brazil, the ICDE Latin America Network and University of Morón, Argentina, and the National University of Quilmes in Argentina. They visited UNE in Armidale and the other DEHub partners : Charles Sturt University (Bathurst), Central Queensland University (Rockhampton), and the University of Southern Queensland (Toowoomba).
In meetings with senior representatives of each university, they learned more about the differences and similarities in approaches to – and technologies employed in – distance education by their institutions in Australia, Brazil and Argentina.
Dr Carina Bossu and Dr Fredy Valenzuela, researchers and lecturers at UNE, travelled with the delegates from Latin America and were pleased to assist in translating where appropriate. Former UNE doctoral students from Latin America, and now employed by the University, they represent a key to future links with the region.
“Distance education is an important means of guaranteeing access, quality, and equity of education,” said one of the South American delegates, Associate Professor Sara Perez from the National University of Quilmes. “I recognise that these three elements are concerns of all the participating institutions, and this will no doubt facilitate future exchanges.”
Professor Fredric Litto, President of the Brazilian Association for Distance Education, said that he could see “huge potential for educational collaboration between South American countries and Australia because of their similarities and needs for highly qualified professionals – for example, collaboration in the delivery of distance courses in agribusiness, meat science, food technology, and teacher education”.
“There is a potential for research into the use of distance-education technologies for people who seek further education in these areas,” he said, “and for post-doctorate research exchanges between Australia and Brazil.”
The visit closed with a meeting in Canberra with the Brazilian Ambassador, Fernando de Mello Barreto, the Argentinean Ambassador, Pedro Villagra Delgado, and Jane Duke, Assistant Secretary of the Canada and Latin America Branch within the Americas and Africa Division of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, representing COALAR.
Professor Victor Minichiello, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of UNE’s Faculty of The Professions, said it was clear from the discussions at the Canberra meeting that high-quality distance education is seen to be critical for the educational opportunities of future generations. “UNE, through its leading role in the DEHub program, is playing an important part in getting scholars from around the world to work together in developing a knowledge and scholarship platform to guide sound teaching and learning practices in distance education,” he said. “It was pleasing to see our colleagues recognise that UNE and its partner institutions in Australia are taking this leadership role in distance education.”
“With education being a key priority for COALAR in achieving collaboration between Latin American countries and Australia, I am very pleased that we are able to support this project,” said Jane Duke. “Educational exchange and capacity building are vital to increase national skills and capabilities among the countries involved in this project.”
The second stage of the project will take place in late August and early September, when the partner universities of the DEHub consortium will visit the two universities in Argentina and attend the 16th International Congress for Distance Education in Brazil, where there will be a focus on Australian distance education.