Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth

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The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth (VUSSC) is a network of small countries committed to the collaborative development of free content resources for use in an educational context. Participating countries focus on the collaborative development of post-secondary, skills-related courses in areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, disaster management, life skills, use of information and communication technologies, and small fisheries management. The materials produced by the VUSSC countries are non-proprietary and are readily adaptable for use in specific country contexts. It is important to note that the VUSSC is not a tertiary institution. Rather, it is a mechanism for small countries to collaboratively develop, adapt and share courses and learning materials. It is also a forum for institutions to build capacity and expertise in online collaboration, eLearning and information and communication technologies (ICT) in general. The idea for VUSSC was originally envisioned by the thirty-two Ministers of Education of the small Commonwealth states at their triennial conference in Halifax, Canada, in 2000. Following the Halifax meeting, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) chaired a technical advisory committee and helped draft a proposal for the VUSSC. A small group of Ministers, meeting in the Seychelles in March 2003, reviewed the proposal and recommended it to the Edinburgh Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in October 2003. VUSSC member countries then met on two occasions in Singapore. At the first meeting in September 2005, a Letter of Intent and a Singapore Statement were agreed. In the Statement Ministers of Education and representatives from 22 small states of Commonwealth agreed to work together to develop free courses that could be implemented widely in Commonwealth countries and that will be recognised by participating institutions. (1)

VUSSC is actively engaged in the development of OER materials for use among member states. (2)

In the VUSSC community OER were developed collaboratively using the notion of a “bootcamp” (an intensive training workshop) comprising content specialists and design  experts. VUSSC develops materials in English based on needs jointly identified by the Ministers of the small states in order to address common areas. The development of the OER is accomplished using a template devised by VUSSC with assistance from COL. Current content covers fields such as agriculture, life skills, disaster management, fisheries, port management, online content development and professional development for educators. In the development of high quality OER VUSSC works closely with professionals and specialists in industry to ensure that the materials are relevant. National, regional and trans‐national qualifications authorities are also consulted as graduates using the materials need to have their qualifications accredited. The materials are learner and teacher oriented and developed bearing in mind the language skills of the target audience. In keeping with the ideals of OER the materials are adaptable and in digital format for portability. The approach adopted has been bottom‐up with the institutions involved making their facilities and infrastructure available for the “bootcamps”. Capacity development has also taken place during the “bootcamps” in order to increase the number of persons involved in developing OER thereby sustaining their development. Institutions are also recognised which enhances the acceptance of the materials.  All materials are developed under the Creative Commons licensing framework. Ms Kruse‐Vaai of Samoa University alludes to the sustainability of the VUSSC OER developments by highlighting that provision has been made for resources for future growth; that there has been continuing human resource and infrastructure capacity building; that OER formed part of the strategic plans both at national and institutional level; and that partnerships were being extended and expanded. Linked to these there was ongoing research on the impact on the target groups to ensure accountability and transparency. Challenges faced by the VUSSC OER consortium include the need for additional computer infrastructure, broadband connectivity, keeping up with fast‐changing technology, sustaining collaboration networks, encouraging local stakeholder support (including parents) and the need for policy development. (3) 

The Transnational Qualifications Framework (TQF) for International Accreditation for the Virtual University for the Small States of the Commonwealth (TQF for VUSSC:Procedures and Guidelines) was formally launched in April 2010. It is heralded the introduction of probably the most international, collaborative system for capacity building, skills development and greater access to quality-assured qualifications. Since the VUSSC is not an accrediting or awarding body, the institutions that offer the courses must accredit them locally. The aim of a TQF should be to ensure that all the open educational resources that are being created collaboratively can be adapted into recognised courses that students can take for credit through the recognized institutions of the small states. The TQF is to act as a translation point for modules/units and qualifications between countries. An additional benefit of the TQF may be to discourage bogus providers, which are particularly active in trying to sell fake qualifications in the small states. (4)


2. ICDE Report: 'Regulatory frameworks for distance education: A pilot study in the Southwest Pacific/South East Asia region - Final report'. December 2011. Prepared by the Project Team (Team leader, Dr. Rosalind James) (accessed at on Wednesday 11th July 2012)

3. ICDE Report, 'Taking OER beyond the OER Community: Policy and Capacity - Summary Report' ; Policy Forum in Paris, France, 1st December 2010. (Accessed at on Friday 13th July 2012)

4. ICDE Country Profile for Fiji (