“To maintain the UK’s position in distance learning, we have to focus on education, not technology, argues Helen Lentell

Distance learning in higher education is enjoying a propitious moment, despite – perhaps even because of – the hard times facing the sector.

At last week’s Learning and Technology World Forum in London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the UK could become a “global education superpower”, with e-learning as one of its fastest-growing exports.

E-learning could also solve problems at home: as pressure continues to mount on the academy’s resources, flexible distance learning may become an increasingly attractive solution.

First Secretary Lord Mandelson no doubt had this in mind when announcing the creation of an online distance learning task force last year, backed by a £20 million matched-funding scheme to support centres of excellence. The terms of reference for this group focus on exploring ways of using online distance learning to attract more domestic and international students and increase collaboration between universities and colleges.”

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Universities say they already police compliance and infringements effectively. Matthew Reisz writes

Major concerns have been raised about the impact of the Digital Economy Bill on universities, which fear it is likely to result in a “bureaucratic burden and muddle”.

A central aim of the Bill, which is currently before the House of Lords, is to tackle online copyright infringement – something that Toby Bainton, secretary of the Society of College, National and University Libraries, said “everybody supports”.

However, there are fears that universities, which will be held responsible for the activities of their students, could be unduly affected by the proposals.

Mr Bainton said it appeared that “the position of higher education has not been clearly thought through”, adding that the sector “already has good systems in place that ought to be recognised and worked with”.

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