Scalability and Quality through international collaboration


Notes from the presentation provided by Senior Adviser,  Torunn Gjelsvik from ICDE at the ICT EDU-Action conference, Stockholm University, 2. June 2017 at the evening session at the Nobel Museum.


Dear colleagues!

My name is Torunn Gjelsvik, I come from Oslo, Norway, where I work as a Senior Adviser in the Secretariat of the global membership organization for online and flexible learning named ICDE.

ICDE stands for International Council for Open and Distance Education, and is the leading global membership organization for online, open and flexible education. We draw our membership from institutions, educational authorities, regional associations, commercial actors, and individuals, mostly within higher education.

We have a long history as a membership organization, longer than UNESCO – as we go back almost 80 years, to when ICDE was founded in 1938 in Canada. At that time the name was International Council for Correspondence Education and was formed by education providers, that offered distance education through postal mail. Today our members offer various online and blended study provisions through a combination of methods and means under the umbrella of what we may call flexible and technology enhanced education.

ICDE's Permanent Secretariat is in Oslo, Norway, and has been hosted by my country on a permanent basis since 1988. We have a consultative partnership with UNESCO, and work with policy recommendations, events and projects related to the Education 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goal for education. We have members from over 60 countries worldwide, in all the regions of the world, counting more than 160 institutions (and the University of Stockholm is one of them), 24 Associations, 100 individual members and more than 150 Ph.D students, who have been offered a free ICDE membership along with their doctoral studies, taking part in the ICDE Global Doctoral Consortium.

Why is international collaboration more important than ever?

We have some mega trends:

-          Globalisation

-          Demographics

-          Disruptive technologies

….that already influence society in many regions of the world, including education.

The digital transformation is called the next industrial revolution, and a quote from IBM Norway is:

«We think cognitive technologies will fuel the digital transformation as the damp machine fuelled the industrial revolution».

This is hardly a controversial statement, as artificial intelligence, automation and robotics are already influencing many sectors of the society, including education. New educational providers are entering the scene, increasing the competition and challenging the relevance of educational institutions all over the world.

The digital transformation fosters new learning technologies and methodologies, and will fuel innovation in education towards more personalized and adapted learning and assessment. Why? Because technology allows us to do so, through learning analytics, new technological platforms and the mainstreaming of open and online learning. But also because students will expect personalization and individual adaptation to happen, in line with the developments in health and public services, business, work and private life in general. And least, but not the last – as digitalization increases the speed of transformation of society, we all need to define ourselves as lifelong learners and global citizens. We need to develop new competencies and skills to adapt to society’s and employer’s needs. And this cannot be done in a vacuum. We need to connect with the global society, which is why internationalisation is more important than ever.

How can international collaboration help in scaling up quality education?

As nations, institutions and individual actors in the educational field we all bear a huge responsibility the reach the sustainable development goal 4, which is:

“Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”

According to the principle of education as a public good – and who has decided the SDGs, only governments can be responsible – and accountable for their decision.  Others can be mobilized, take part and support – but not be responsible.

Now this may sound like an unreachable goal before 2030, and we may all ask ourselves, how on earth may I as an individual or through my institution contribute this goal?

Well, we do have a Framework for Action for the Education 2030 Agenda, adopted by 160 countries. This framework sets a vision for education and recognizes education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. It focuses on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.

ICDE played an important part in the development of this global framework for action, specifically related to Target 4.3, point 43.

A well-established, properly-regulated tertiary education system supported by technology, Open Educational Resources (OERs) and distance education modalities can increase access, equity, quality and relevance, and narrow the gap between what is taught at tertiary education institutions and what economies and societies demand. The provision of tertiary education should be progressively free, in line with existing international agreements

We are absolutely dependent on technology enhanced learning provisions to achieve scalable and affordable education for all. So where do we stand in this picture?

Well, the global average projection to achieve key global education commitments is 2084 for universal upper secondary completion (2042 for universal primary completion). For Southern Asia the forecast is 2087 and for Sub-Saharan Africa we will not achieve the universal upper secondary completion goal until after the year 2100. This is why UNESCO stated in its’ press release of 6 September 2016:

Education needs to fundamentally change if we are to reach our global development goals

My main message today will therefore be: We need to fundamentally change education through inclusive quality and technology enhanced education

This is why quality work is at the core of ICDE’s priorities as an enabler of collaboration between educational actors of all levels: content, course programmes, methodologies, infrastructure, policies and leadership for digital transformation.

As a final part of my intervention, I will briefly mention a few core ICDE projects and initiatives for quality education:

DIVERSE PROVISION OF HIGHER EDUCATION. An International Conference on quality for Higher Education is being prepared for late 2018, with regional conferences and regional stock-taking of quality work to be arranged during 2017 and 2018, feeding into the main conference.

-          ICDE contributes as a member of the steering committee for this initiative, and through our newly established Quality Network, formed by 7 regional Focal Points on Quality, that will lead regional task forces for quality and contribute to the UNESCO regional quality conferences.

-          The ICDE Global Doctoral Consortium, that was briefly mentioned previously, where Ph.D students doing research related to technology and learning are taking part in a virtual global consortium, where they also get the opportunity to meet and present their research at ICDE conferences and other related events.

-          The Models project is another important quality initiative – this is a study initiated by ICDE and funded by ICDE members and UNESCO, where a research team has been contracted to collect relevant cases of online, open, flexible and technology enhanced higher education around the globe. The study investigates innovative and sustainable cases and the aim is to see if it is possible to narrow down this exemplary universe to a few identifiable delivery models for flexible and online study provision. The models will hopefully serve as inspirational and adaptive models for sustainable quality technology enhanced education for educational actors all around the world.

-          OER is another important topic, and ICDE is engaged in several projects and events related to the theme

-          Leadership for digital transformation- which was the core theme for our latest Leadership Summit in May, hosted by Université de Lorraine in Nancy, France, with specific focus on how to lead digital transformation through learning analytics and adaptive learning. The same week we arranged a policy forum together with UNESCO and the project D-Transform, with the title: Visionary Leadership for digital transformation. At this conference we gathered 20 strategic and contextual cases for leadership for digital transformation, in addition to one high level key note and panellists discussing the way forward for educational leadership in the digital transformation.


I hope some of these initiatives and projects will encourage you to join the ICDE community and take part in the global network, so you can influence the future of education at an international level. Our global community gives you access to a wide range of experts and networks across borders and cultures and enables you to collaborate globally within education. And as UNESCO says, which also goes hand in hand with the heritage and legacy of Alfred Nobel:

Education is crucial to fostering tolerance between people and contributes to more peaceful societies.

Thank you!