Tuesday, October 4, 2011

VUSSC; the start of a revolution in transborder education

The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC), through its Transnational Qualifications Framework,  has marked the start of a revolution in transborder education. Now it is the turn of Open Educational Resource university (OERu) !
The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth  (VUSSC) is a mechanism for the small countries to collaboratively develop courses in post-secondary education sector. The materials produced are non-proprietary and therefore trouble free contextualisation of the materials for the requirements of specific countries are possible. Courses are developed in skill related areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, disaster management, life skills, use of information and communication technologies, and small fisheries management.

The idea for VUSSC was conceived during the triennial conference of the thirty-two Ministers of Education of the small Commonwealth states in Halifax, Canada, in 2000. Following the Halifax meeting, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) chaired a technical advisory committee and facilitated drafting of a proposal for the VUSSC. A small group of Ministers met in the Seychelles in March 2003, reviewed the proposal and recommended it to the Edinburgh Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in October 2003.

In the orientation and planning meeting organized jointly by COL and the Government of Singapore in 2005, the representatives of the Ministers of Education from 22 small states of Commonwealth agreed to work together to develop free courses that could be implemented widely in Commonwealth countries and that will be recognised by participating institutions. Another meeting held in April 2006 has approved the priority areas as we have discussed in the beginning of this article. Subsequently, a workshop to collaboratively develop materials was organized in Mauritius in August, 2006.

As per the business strategy for VUSSC 2007 - 2013, VUSSC has been proposed as a solution to overcome the shortage of skilled and well trained manpower in crucial sectors caused by:

  1. Small territory - that limits the natural resources both in quantity and variety 
  2. Small population - that make it difficult to have skilled and trained people in all crucial sectors that modern economies demand 
  3. Environmental challenges - the effect of environmental issues and natural calamities will be more intense on small populations

It is also true that small counties cannot set up all the infrastructure required to exploit the benefits of modern technologies to the maximum extent. Therefore the small states in the Commonwealth thought that they required collaborative efforts and joint systems to overcome the challenges.

Though the whole idea of VUSSC is innovative and a matter of special interest to any educationalist, the factor that attracted me the most is the idea of a Transnational Qualifications Framework.

A Qualification Framework is primarily an official document that clearly defines each and every qualification brought under it. It may also provide a hierarchy of qualifications. In system view it is a meta-data model, that is, an all encompassing framework to integrate the qualifications issued by different academic bodies into a common structure. It consists of a set of common reference points, referring to learning outcomes, supported by a range of tools and techniques, regardless of the system where a particular qualification was acquired.

Concrete steps towards the concept of  a qualifications framework to facilitate transborder education can be traced back to the Lisbon Recognition Convention (1997). In 1997 the Council of Europe developed, together with UNESCO, the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region, called Lisbon Recognition Convention (as it was adopted in Lisbon in 1997). The Convention is the key legal instrument for recognition of qualifications across Europe.

However, it is the VUSSC project that has proposed a robust concept of Transnational Qualifications Framework with the support of South African Qualifications Authority and under the leadership of Commonwealth of Learning. Finally the Transnational Qualifications Framework (TQF) for the Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth was launched in April 2010.

Though it is called as TQF for VUSSC, I would say, it marks the start of a revolution in transborder education throughout the world and the outcome will be a truly Transnational Qualifications Framework for the whole world!

When population explosion, environmental issues and resultant economic troubles limit natural resources in quality, quantity and variety ...when bigger issues like global warming make natural calamities intense for larger countries and populations, we see that the crucial issues that led to the formation of VUSSC exists in the world outside SSC as well - in different forms and in wider canvas. Perhaps, now it might be the turn of Open Educational Resource university (OERu)!

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