5.1 – The Role of Government

In National Strategies for E-Learning, Bates (2001) examines the role of governments in planning and directing e-learning in higher education and some of the key strategies available to governments. He poses some key questions about access and connectivity within a country, the function and organization of education and training sectors (and how such existing organizations are under pressure due to the impact of e-learning), and new or radical ways to re-imagine the provision of education and training at the national level. The specific challenges and strategies that he highlights relate to key priorities that motivate governments to play a role in the planning and management. Bates lists the following priorities:

  • the delivery of cost-effective instruction to under-served populations and regions;
  • increasing the capacity of all institutions and programs to utilize the power of technology to carry out their teaching, research, and service functions;
  • a more fully articulated system of post-secondary education and training where transitions from one institution and sector to another are enhanced;
  • greater capacity of post-secondary education and training institutions to meet the economic development goals of the state and the continuing lifelong learning needs of its citizens;
  • a more informed set of consumers about choices and programs available from state, international and private institutions;
  • a better conception of what constitutes best practice in the field of e-learning,;
  • a financing, planning and accountability process that can be used to justify the significant investments of public funds required to achieve these goals. (p. 30)

Government Planning

There are a variety of ways that governments can intervene to influence the development of e-learning. These range from simply tinkering with the existing system and institutions or creating the right technical infrastructure, to more radical approaches that might involve the creation of new institutions, merging or reorganizing existing institutions and using e-learning to rethink and transform how education is delivered.

Regardless of how radical or conservative an approach governments take, funding plays a key role and there are variety of funding strategies that can be used to implement a government e-learning agenda. These include, among other things, reallocating existing funding, providing targeted funding for e-learning, allowing institutions to increase tuition fees and developing new business models for developing online programs.

One of the points that Bates makes throughout National Strategies for E-Learning is that, regardless of political ideology, governments have a role to play in creating the appropriate conditions for e-learning.

A government can play a number of strategic roles in the area of technology planning in post-secondary education and training. On the one hand, its academic and financing policies can encourage all institutions to utilize e-learning. On the other hand, it can articulate and operationalize a collective vision for the state post-secondary system with respect to the place and role of e-learning, distributed learning and distance education within the system. (p. 29)

The conservative, radical and funding strategies are highlighted in the following sections. They are discussed more fully in chapters 3, 4 and 6 of National Strategies for E-Learning.

reading iconReading
Bates, A.W. (2001). National strategies for e-learning in post-secondary education and training. Chapters 3, 4. Paris: UNESCO/International Institute for Educational Planning.