Past President of ICDE, Helmut Hoyer – a long-standing campaigner of distance studies retires


Helmut Hoyer is known as a designer, manager and communicator of distance education. For almost two decades he has influenced the development of the FernUniversität in Hagen. At the end of February, the 65 year old handed over his office to his successor Professor Dr. Ada Pellert. Here is an overview of his 19 years in office.

‘Today people say: "if there wasn’t FernUniversität in Hagen, one would have to invent it. There cannot be a bigger praise than that" said Helmut Hoyer. ‘We can all be proud of our one of a kind university and we can act confidently with this acknowledgement’. This is because the FernUniversität in Hagen is the biggest university in Germany with 75,000 students. The university is notably the first to address an academic programme alongside career and other commitments. Mr. Hoyer has encouraged this mission since his appointment as rector in 1997.

The study system has been developed further for the particular target group at the FernUniversität in Hagen. Information technology and new media have been particularly helpful in making studying even more flexible and creating more individualization. Mr. Hoyer has fought politically for the interests of the FernUniversität in Hagen. Nationally he has also supported other universities with the development of distance learning and digitalization.

Internationally he has been involved in the EADTU and ICDE. In his own experience, online, open and flexible higher education universities were lonely players in their own countries. What was needed was worldwide exchange within distance learning and networking was therefore seen as very important to him.

From 1999 until 2008 he was the acting president for ICDE. He created and was responsible for two ICDE World Conferences in the German speaking realm (Vienna 1999 and Dusseldorf 2001). In taking responsibility for these two ICDE World Conferences Helmut Hoyer brought to the forefront the major challenges which had to be faced in open and distance learning. He had recognised and brought into the open through these conferences a new and very different world. It was now necessary to face a future in a networking and networked world and to stay on the cutting-edge of a fast- moving environment. In this new world, innovation was likely to be revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

Today’s answers would be recognised tomorrow as no longer fit for purpose and would be superseded by tomorrow’s in a continuous process of creative destruction. The Vienna conference demonstrated the meaning of partnerships between the education sector, business and industry. This was followed in the Düsseldorf conference which embraced the shaping of transition. The presentations and workshops at these two conferences offered practical demonstrations and a view of the new world of open and distance learning in a way which had never been done before.

By 2004 the need for major changes in ICDE as an organisation had also become clear. The Constitution, Committee Structure and procedures were becoming outdated. When the President resigned for ill-health reasons in August 2005, Helmut agreed to step in as Acting President and provided oversight and guidance until the whole task of rewriting the Constitution and getting in place new management and systems had been accomplished. It is difficult to imagine how such major changes in an international organisation, requiring constant consultation and attention to detail, could have been accomplished without his unstinting efforts, personal drive and initiative.

In 2012 he received the ‘Prize of Excellence’ from the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) for engagement in establishing and promoting distance learning. Naturally he will continue his engagement and he will remain a member of the ICDE election committee. In Germany he will use his expertise in Hochschulforum Digitalisierung (German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age) as well as the New Media Commission of the German Rectors’ Conference.

NewsRita ChanGermany