In 1971, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) launched Asia’s first open and distance learning programme via the School of Distance Education (SDE); making USM the industry leader to offer off-campus programme for Malaysians who missed the opportunity to pursue their higher education due to work or family commitment.
Since her establishment in 1971, SDE has gone through three stages of transformation. At first, it was administered only as a division under the School of Education, then it was upgraded into a unit before becoming an independent school. The transformation happened simultaneously with the evolution of Malaysia’s demands for human resource and education system.
Both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes are available through SDE. For undergraduates, SDE offers four Honour’s degrees in Bachelor of Science, Social Science, Arts and Management via part-time open and distance learning (ODL) mode. For postgraduates, SDE offers Doctor of Philosophy, Master’s of Science, Master’s of Social Science and Master’s of Arts in full-time or part-time research mode.
Here, SDE utilises a blended learning strategy that considers andragogical efficacy, cost effectiveness, and recent advancements in information and communication technology (ICT). Undergraduate students are given self-instructional materials in a variety of formats, and the teaching and learning process is carried out in a variety of ways, including face-to-face instruction and the use of ICT. For the length of studies, undergraduate students can plan to complete their studies between 5 to 12 years.
The students must enroll in the intensive course, which lasts three weeks at the USM main campus to give students the opportunity to participate in lectures and laboratory sessions in person, and to take advantage of a wide range of services and facilities provided by USM.
SDE stands out among other institutions in Malaysia’s ODL programmes since each programme is supported by a team of full-time and multidisciplinary lecturers, of whom 95 percent have a PhD qualification. From the time of establishment, SDE also offers services that take care of students’ wellbeing, in addition to providing competent teaching staff. This includes offering a unique platform like Student Academic Support (SAS), which works to equip students with learning support services in both academic and non-academic aspects.
Student study management assistance, educational resources, as well as personal and technical support which are all included. Moreover, SDE’s Regional Centres also serve as a bridge between students and SDE. In this instance, it serves as mini libraries and examination centres. These distinctive features have contributed to the programme’s academic achievement and excellence.
As part of the APEX research university, SDE welcomes collaboration and cooperation with local and international universities, industries and communities. In recent years, SDE has established linkages with a variety of collaborators from various backgrounds to collaborate on education, research and community projects. To defend her academic standing, SDE also does not pass up a chance by securing research grants both at the national and international levels.
After half a century of being established in the ODL programme, SDE has received numerous accolades in various categories. And recently, SDE was honored as Malaysia’s Best Multidisciplinary Open and Distance Learning Institution in Malaysia Education + TVET Awards (META) 2022. After all, SDE’s goal of becoming an ODL centre ‘To lead, innovate and excel in various disciplines and transdisciplines through the distance education approach and conventional education for a sustainable tomorrow’ has been demonstrated by several awards it has received. Nevertheless, initiatives are still being stepped up to ensure SDE maintains its leading role in ODL and in the respective academic fields.
Education and TVET are vital for a nation’s future. Thus, all stakeholders need to set out on full-scale effort and initiatives to equip all Malaysians with future-proof skills and knowledge. Undoubtedly, SDE is committed to this cause.