Studying with a European Dimension 1.

Hans Beelen and Ulrich Bernath


in: Bernath/Beelen (Hrsg.), Integration von fremdsprachigen Fernstudien in das Präsenzstudium. Dokumentation des Erprobungsmodells "Europäisch studieren" im Studiengang Niederlandistik der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg im Wintersemester 1992/93. Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenburg, 1994

(see also article in German language)

The following article outlines the integration of open and distance teaching elements into the study programme for resident students at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg

Since October 1992, students at the Department of Dutch Studies of the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg (Germany) have the opportunity of integrating distance teaching courses into their regular study programme. The experiment takes place in collaboration with the Open universiteit of the Netherlands and the Oldenburg Centre for Distance Education. The federal Minister of Education and Science supports the project with a substantial grant, part of which is meant for evaluation and development of further projects.


The background of the experiments is, of course, the broad current discussion on higher education in the EC. Studying abroad, knowledge of foreign languages, studying without frontiers, open and distance learning are catchphrases often heard in association with open and distance learning2.. The comprehensive - and at the same time flexible - range of courses of the European open and distance universities is supposed to provide an interesting possibility to internationalise traditional university education.

According to the EC-memorandum on university education in the European Community "closer integration and relationship between distance education and the total structure of postcompulsory education and training. (...) Students should be able to move freely as between distance education and institutional modes of study and qualifications gained through distance learning should carry the same status and recognition as those awarded for corresponding studies carried out in attendance at higher education institutions. Distance education should be seen as supplementing and complementing existing higher education and advanced training structures to enable them to cope with the demands of the coming decades."3.

Reality is still a far cry from this ideal. Conditions and frameworks remain to be created. The EC-memorandum on university education remarks that "while we are still in want of standardisation, exchange of experiences can provide valuable data." In this respect the project "Studying with a European Dimension" aims to contribute to filling the gap in experience and information by developing transferable concepts. The project is supervised and evaluated, so that the prospects of integrating courses of European open and distance universities into the study programmes for resident students in Germany can be discussed on a more general level.

Integration of open/distance learning into regular university programmes

The integration of open and distance elements into the study programmes for resident students offers additional advantages. We would like to enumerate teaching aims on three levels, the contents level, the language level and the level of learning strategies.

Let us first consider the contents level, where we talk about the subject Dutch Studies. In general the courses of the Open universiteit provide a lot of interesting material for all those concerned with the Netherlands. For our experiment we decided on the so-called orientation course Cultural Studies the "Orientatiecursus cultuurwetenschappen, Twee culturen: de Republiek en Java". For several reasons this course of the Open universiteit is especially suitable for an integration into the regular programme of Dutch Studies in Oldenburg.

On the language level we have to consider that the study material of the Open universiteit is written almost exclusively in Dutch, thereby offering a wealth of authentic scientific texts in a foreign language. Mutatis mutandis the same naturally applies to the courses of other European open and distance universities. By reading and studying the course texts but also through contacts with their Dutch counsellors and tutors and during short stays in the Netherlands, the students will be enabled to improve their proficiency in Dutch. Especially for those students who already posess some basic knowledge of the language and who prepare for an intermediate examination the project is an excellent opportunity to acquire the necessary reading routine and to improve their comprehension. (Additionally, at the tuition meetings, during the excursion as well as during the practical work at a museum communciation will be exclusively in Dutch.)

On the level of learning strategies students must adapt themselves to another form of studying, namely the system ot guided self-study of the Dutch Open universiteit 4.. As is the custom with all open universities, the courses are composed of modules, each aiming at specific results. This makes students more willing to accept the responsibility for their studies and leads to a higher degree of independence. The acquaintance with the didactic principles of open and distance teaching will make students aware of their won learning strategies. Thus they will be better prepared for a so-called "life long learning process" 5.. In other words: guided self-study and contacts with tutors and fellow students at the Open universiteit enable students to acquire knowledge as well as skills and attitutes which will prepare them for tasks in their studies and, eventually, in their careers. It provides students with basic knowledge, so that they can attend to this course as part of the first phase of their studies. This course is one of the many so-called thematic introductions the Open universiteit has on offer. The subject of the course - the relations between the Netherlands and the Indonesian island of Java in the 17th and 18th century - is highlighted by several disciplines: anthropology, history, theology, the history of art and literary history. The point of view is multi- and interdisciplinary. The underlying concept of culture is wide and supposed to lead to a scientific attitute. It is because of these characteristics that the orientation course Cultural Studies forms and attractive enrichment of Dutch Studies in Oldenburg which are more or less concerned with Dutch language and literature. As the course provides students with information about Dutch culture it belongs to the examination subject "Dutch culture and society".

Study Centres

However, the integration of such a course of the Open universiteit into Dutch Studies in Oldenburg comprises more than just the use of the material. To be precise, we are making use not only of their study material, but also of additional services. The fact that the University of Oldenburg is situated near the Dutch border proves to be a great advantage, as two of the eighteen regional study centres of the Open universiteit are within reasonable distance: the Studiecentrum Emmen and the Studiecentrum Groningen. So with only a little time spent on travelling we can make use of the already existing Dutch infrastructure. Counselling and tutorials, study days and practical work at a museum can be easily organised in our European neighbouring country.

Finally, integration is intended to include the possibility for students to take an exam of the Open universiteit. The passed exam will be acknowledged as a module of the regular study programme of Dutch Studies in Oldenburg. Thus cooperation also means recognising qualifications gained abroad.


How is the project being put into practice? During the first run (winterterm 1992/93) meetings take place in Oldenburg and Groningen. In October the students were informed about the background, the aims and the contents of the project. 18th November - a public holiday in Germany but not in the Netherlands - was a study day in Groningen. On 16th December there was a study day in Oldenburg. The units of the course acquaint students with various interesting subjects which in our opinion are especially suitable for an introduction into Dutch culture and society. The reflection on the nature of knowledge regarding Cultural Studies seems to us quite important. In January 1993 the students must complete exercises at a museum in Groningen, providing them with an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice. In January and February 1993 further exercises will be completed in Groningen, providing students with an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice. Also at this time meetings will take place in which the contents of the course units are discussed with the help of a tutor from the Open universiteit. The project will end with a short excursion and the examination. As the exam consists of Dutch multiple choice questions, examination training is provided.

Future perspectives

The project is not meant to remain unique, and it is not supposed to be limited to Dutch Studies. In our opinion, a lot of innovative didactic prospects open up with the project.

To begin with, the orientation course Cultural Studies could become a part of the study programme of Dutch Studies in Oldenburg recurring at regular intervals. In such a permanent cooperation with the Open universiteit students would have the opportunity to add a European component to their studies. It would be interesting to examine which other courses of the Open universiteit could be integrated into the traditional study programme.

Not only Dutch Studies but also other disciplines could profit from the Open universiteit. As regards the contents, some subjects have strong links with the Netherlands. Imagine an ocean biologist whose emphasis is on ecological problems of the mudflats. Why should she not have the opportunity to incorporate a course on ecological law in the Netherlands into her studies? Or take a social worker who is interested in the politics concerning minorities. Could he not profit from the course of the Open universiteit about the way our Western neighbour treats minorities? Such enrichments of regular study programmes could be made possible by bilateral cooperation between traditional institutions of higher education on the one hand and open and distance teaching universities on the other hand6.. Common to all these forms of cooperation would be a European dimension achieved by integrating elements of distance teaching in a foreign language.

It goes without saying that proficiency in the foreign language in question forms a precondition for such plans. Here lies an exciting perspective for all teachers of foreign languages at regular and night schools as well as at universities.

Experiences and insights won during this first "Dutch" Oldenburg experiment could thus be applied with far-reaching consequences, e.g. as regards the initiation of cooperation with other European open and distance universities. Some efforts are being made to develop networks of organisations interested in carrying out some experimental work on a broader base. Perhaps cooperation as outlined could even be integrated into the third phase of the ERASMUS programme. Then students would truly have the chance to add a European component to their studies by traditional mobility as well as by distance learning7.



  1. This article was orginally published in: EADTU-News, Newsletter of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities, Issue 12, January 1993, p. 19-22. (Zurück zum Text)
  2. Of e.g. Memorandum on Higher Education in the European Community. Brussels: Task Force Human Resources, 1991 (COM(91) 349 final: 5th November, 1991), 89-98 and memorandum 'Open Distance Learning in the European Community.' Brussels: Task Force Human Resources, 1991 (COM(91)388 final: 12th November 1991. (Zurück zum Text)
  3. Memorandum on Higher Education in the European Community (of footnote 1). § 94-96. Cf. R. Charters d`Azevedo: "...the expertise of the Open and Distance Teaching Universities is indispensable for the innovation of the traditional higher education provisions. The proposed action in ERASMUS for open distance learning should promote collaboration between open universities and traditional institutions, aiming at (...) the improving of the quality of higher education, by incorporating open university courses...", Higher Level Open Learning in Europe: The Accelerating Pace of Change. In: EADTU News 10 (May 1992), p. 12. Of also the recent Empfehlungen zum Fernstudium. Hannover: Wissenschaftsrat. 13th November, 1992, p. 60: "In a fully developed open and distance teaching system students at traditional universities can complement their study programmes and if necessary realise them partly by making use of open and distance teaching." (German quotation translated by us, H.B. & U.B.). (Zurück zum Text)
  4. Of Instellingsvisitatie 1990: Het onderwijs van de Open universiteit: ideeën, plannen and realisatie, 1989-1990, Zelfstudierapport ten behoeve van de eerste instellingsvisitatie. Heerlen, augustus 1990. (Zurück zum Text)
  5. Of e.g. K. Kairamo (ed): Education for Life, A European Strategy. London: Butterworths, 1989. (Zurück zum Text)
  6. The Cursuscatalogus 1992/1993 of the Open universiteit for instance consists of 211 courses in seven fields of study: law, economics, management and administration, technology, natural sciences, social sciences, and cultural studies, which can be combined in a variety of academic degree programmes. Every year two to three new courses are offered in each field of study. (Zurück zum Text)
  7. Of the Memorandum on Higher Education in the European Community (of footnote 1), § 101-114, as well as H.C. Jones about the expected student mobility: "...even if we were to achieve a 10% target figure, for European higher education cooperation and student mobility and exchange, what about the remaining 90% of the students? It is a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that open and distance learning could be used to move packages of high quality teaching material to the learner wherever he or she is living, studying or working. (...) We can never in practice invisage a 100% student mobility and exchange scheme at EC level. It would be a pipe dream. We have to find other ingenious ways of delivering this necessary European dimension to higher education." Paper to the European Parliament, quoted from EADTU News 10 (May 1992), p. 8. (Zurück zum Text)