SCOP 2009, 20-21 November, Barcelona, Spain

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The crucial role of virtual and distance learning is further confirmed in the current economic climate.

The solution to society’s learning needs lies in flexibility, innovation and new technologies, and open and distance education universities are ready to the lead way. Traditional universities are failing adequately to respond to student needs, and the financial crisis presents a tremendous opportunity for institutions which specialize in virtual and distance learning to gain acceptance for modern and innovative approaches within higher education.

These were among the preliminary conclusions of a meeting of over eighty presidents, rectors and executives from open and distance teaching universities held 20-21 November in Barcelona, Spain.

Introducing the 16th annual Standing Conference of Presidents, Dr. Frits Pannekoek, President of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) and President of Athabasca University, Canada, noted that only through distance education can the number of higher education places worldwide be doubled to 300 million over the next decade.

The meeting, hosted by Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), Spain, focused on how to ensure continued and enhanced quality of service to the student and to society, and how to provide the global economy with the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Xavier Sala-i-Martín, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, New York and Senior Economic Advisor to the World Economic Forum, Davos, called on university presidents to promote critical thinking to drive innovation, competitiveness and productivity in the world economy.

Participants noted that the student audience today has a diverse profile with varying levels of sophistication and points of entry. Potential students need access to learning rather than a designated place of learning, but universities must aim for higher graduation rates, focusing on retention as well as access. Participants noted the urgency for universities worldwide to foster the culture of network building through technology, and to maximize collaboration between the academic world and industry, for the sake of students’ motivation, and the relevance and value of their learning experience.

Sources of further information

The ICDE Standing Conference of Presidents:

The ICDE 2009 Standing Conference of Presidents website and programme:


Conference declaration


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Welcome Message Imma Tubella.png



Conference Programme

Quality in the Context of the Financial Crisis

The economic and financial crisis has brought with it the opportunity for strategic change in university systems, which must become the reference for society's future well-being, given that quality education is key for employment and economic sustainability in the knowledge society.

In an adverse economic climate society, most needs innovative, decisive and, even, risk-taking initiatives that break new ground, making accessible and mobilising knowledge for society, and expanding the boundaries of our knowledge. This is the mission of the university system as agent for innovation, and for economic and social progress.

Specifically, we believe that it is vital to reflect on four challenges that such crises pose to university undertakings:

  • Quality upgrading

  • New entrepreneurship

  • Employability and lifelong learning

  • Leading innovative approaches to the financial crisis

Quality upgrading

The higher education system is experiencing constant and unpredictable changes, and as a consequence, must respond to an increasing range of needs and demands. This has challenged the traditional definitions of quality, and makes it necessary to give institutions and programmes a good, hard look in order to identify and promote appropriate curricular designs, new methods of teaching and learning, different strategies for the development and transfer of knowledge, and more professional competencies for institutional and academic management. Quality in higher education is increasingly linked to flexibility and a strong commitment to the transformation of students, to enable them to transform society. As such, a consistent and explicit concern for quality, its definition, its assurance and its constant improvement is now an essential component of the life of all higher education institutions.

New entrepreneurship

The fostering of the entrepreneurial talent that transforms ideas and knowledge into new economic opportunities is one of the most significant challenges for the education system. Among the broad range of missions attributed by society to university systems is the crucial role of fostering these entrepreneurial attitudes and skills, because without the promotion and development of this talent, it will be difficult to excel in the knowledge society. Recent research shows the relevance of new businesses in the favourable evolution of productivity around the world. Contributing to this result are not just initiatives fostered from university-based springboards and incubators but also knowledge-intensive activities developed by other highly-qualified entrepreneurs with extensive working experience. Our societies are also witnessing the emergence of the so-called social entrepreneurship. Universities have to be the leading agents behind these new factors for social and economic transformation.

Employability and lifelong learning

Educational systems need to find better ways to address the requirements of an unconventional student profile concerned with quality learning throughout their professional life. This has become a more urgent imperative in the context of world economic stringency that will require many individuals to extend their years of employability in order to survive with some degree of comfort. New learning technologies can provide a means through which people can improve core lifelong learning skills and acquire additional competences that they may require for purposes of employability. An exploration is needed of the ways in which ICT/e-learning approaches can be integrated into quality programmes that can be made accessible to people to enable the development of the competences they need not only for employability but also for inclusion into the social and economic fabric of the societies in which they reside.

Leading innovative approaches to the financial crisis

Universities are prompted nowadays to generate resourceful and creative paths of operation in order to handle the financial crisis and strengthen their economic basis. University leaders are challenged today to think out of the box and reconsider their traditional missions, redefine their student constituencies (within and beyond national jurisdictions), find ways to decrease the cost of course development (particularly in DTUs based on the industrial model), enhance collaborative ventures within the academic world (both with other distance education providers and with campus-based universities) and with the corporate world, and rethink their infrastructures and overall operation. They have to do all these without compromising on high quality, accountability and being attentive to societal needs.

Participants in the 2009 ICDE Standing Conference of Presidents are invited to identify and discuss best practices, analyse their role in society, and propose new, creative and effective solutions. The expected outcome, the SCOP 2009 Declaration will propose a road map for universities to prepare and assist society in such crises in the future.

Organising Committee


Chair of the SCOP Organizing Committee:
Dr. Imma Tubella, President of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Vice Chair of the SCOP Organizing Committee:
Dr. Frits Pannekoek, President of the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE)

Coordinator of the SCOP Organizing Committee:
Mr. John Zvereff, Director of International Development, UOC

ICDE: Prof. Marta Mena, ICDE Executive Committee
Dr. Carl Holmberg, Secretary General
Ms. Vibeke Hoffmann, Chief Administration Officer

UOC: Ms. Isabel Picallo, Director of Institutional Relations and the
President's Office
Mr. Eric Hauck, Director of Communications
Ms. Lourdes Gil, International Relations

SCOP International Programme Committee

Coordinator of the SCOP Programme Committee:
Mr. John Zvereff, Director of International Development, UOC

ICDE: Dr. Frits Pannekoek, President of the ICDE Executive Committee
Prof. Marta Mena, ICDE Executive Committee
Dr. Carl Holmberg, Secretary General

UOC: Dr. Imma Tubella, President
Dr. Josep Lladós, Vice President for University Policy and Faculty
Dr. Begoña Gros, Vice President for Innovation

In the News


Clippings SCOP2009

"Recull de premsa" (Press release)

News and articles found in Catalan and Spanish newspapers, journals and magazines

Open and Distance Education: Answers and views from some participants

How is the economic crisis affecting the university community in general, and open and distance education in particular?

The UOC, host of the SCOP 2009:

Presidents of distance and virtual universities from around the world meet in Barcelona

The meeting will serve to discuss the challenges arising from the current economic crisis for a university community that has to face up to strategic change.

SCOP 2009 commences in Barcelona, bringing together presidents and executive directors of virtual and distance universities throughout the world:

Economist Xavier Sala i Martín and President Imma Tubella assert the role of the university in confronting the crisis

The meeting focuses on the search for formulas that allow the quality of university services to be maintained during the crisis and, at the same time, contribute to overcoming the economic and financial difficulties that society is going through.

The SCOP 2009 in Barcelona comes to an end:

The virtual and distance education universities maintain that the current economic situation will provide a new impetus for this type of teaching

They highlight their role in higher education and stress that they will lead the changes needed in the university community thanks to their pioneering use of new technologies


Post Conference Information

Videos and PDF versions of conference presentations can be found here.