Encouraging distance education? An analysis of eu policy on distance education, 1957-2004


This report analyses the development and implementation of the European Union’s policies in distance higher education 1957-2004; it identifies the actors involved in developing these policies; and it investigates the barriers to implementation in the form of the digital divide and attitudinal factors. From the 1960s, the pace of technological and economic change led to obsolescence of skills, and a demand for a more educated workforce. Distance education emerged in the 1960s and 70s as an instrument at national level to redress disadvantage, and to provide flexible, high-quality and cost-effective access to higher education to adults who were unable, for geographical, employment or personal reasons, to attend on-campus. The expansion of distance education led to the opening of a policy window in the 1980s with the Maastricht Treaty (1992) commitment to ‘encouraging the development of distance education’. Supported by influential policy entrepreneurs and networks, distance education held centre stage in European Union education and training policy for a brief period in the early 1990s. However, by 2004, a form of policy amnesia had set in. Despite rhetorical references to social cohesion in the context of the Lisbon goals of making Europe the most competitive economy in the world, the original concept of distance education had been superseded by an unquestioning acceptance of ICTs as the solution to the problem of lifelong learning. Yet, analysis of the digital divide in Europe and a survey of student attitudes to ICTs and elearning, reveal formidable barriers to the adoption of technology-led solutions. The thesis concludes that the European Union has sought to encourage the use of technology in education and training. However, it has failed to encourage the flexibility in terms of time, place, pace, and indeed accessibility, which would enable adult students to participate in education on a truly lifelong learning basis

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