Shrouded in the mists of antiquity and rich culture, the anciently beautiful city of Lahore, Pakistan was the venue of the recently concluded 33rd Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities (AAOU) on 14-16 October 2019. Hosted by the Virtual University of Pakistan (VUP), the three-day conference served as an international platform for the critical exchange of knowledge and expertise among open and distance (ODL) practitioners which was attended by 600 participants from 13 countries from around Asia and the world. The participants comprised Presidents, Rectors, Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, scholars, senior administrators, and policy-makers representing the open universities in the Asian Region and other ODL institutions and organizations.
The conference was officiated by Prof. Masroor Ellahi Babar, Conference Chair; Dr. Nasir Naveed, Conference co-chair, Mr. Naeem Tariq, Rector of VUP, and Dr. Melinda dP. Bandalaria, AAOU President and Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU). The inaugural ceremony featured Chief Guest, Dr. Khalid Maqbool Saddiqui, Federal Minister for IT and Telecom, and Dr. Bandalaria who delivered a keynote speech on “Attaining SDGs through ODL.”
Plenary sessions featured keynote speeches by Prof. Tian Belawati of Universitas Terbuka (UT), Indonesia on “Open University Beyond 2020: Challenges for Policymakers and Providers;” and by Prof. Dato’ Dr. Ansary Ahmed of Asia e-University (AeU), Malaysia titled “Challenges for Policymakers and Education Providers in Pan Asian Academic Program Development and Delivery- the AEU Experience.” Two parallel sessions were conducted during the afternoon of 14 October, continuing on to 15 October with the remaining three parallel sessions.
The second day of the conference featured four keynote speeches delivered by Prof. John Arul Phillips, Dean of the School of Education and Cognitive Science, AeU on “New Generation Learning Impacting Present and Future Design, Development and Delivery of ODL”; Prof. Rory McGreal, UNESCO/ICDE Chair in OER, Athabasca University, Canada on “OER and the Future Educational Technologies”; Ms. Sukaina Walji, Online Education Project Manager, The Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching University of Cape Town, South Africa on “Flexibility or Fragmentation: Implications of Unbundled Online and Distance Education”; and Prof. Dr. Rauf-i-Azam, Vice Chancellor, University of Education, Lahore, Pakistan on “ODL to Transform the Lives of Masses in Pakistan.”
A Gala Dinner sealed the second day of the conference where participants enjoyed Lahori cuisine over performances by Pakistani musicians and delegations from Hanoi Open University (HOU), Vietnam; UT, Indonesia; and UPOU, Philippines.
The last day of the conference began with keynote speeches on “Open Distance Learning 2020 and Beyond” delivered via a video presentation by Prof. Asha Kanwar, President & CEO of Commonwealth of Learning, and “eGovernance of Open Distance Learning in Managed Learning Eco- System (MLE) & Dynamic Frameworks for Technology Enhanced Learning (TeL)” delivered by Prof. Dr. Zia Ul-Qayyum, Vice Chancellor of Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan. Dr. Bandalaria, AAOU President, and Project Lead of the Asian Massive Open Online Courses (Asian MOOCs) and Dr. Grace Alfonso, AAOU Secretary-General, UPOU Professor and Project Lead of the Accreditation System for Quality Assurance of Technology-Mediated Education in Times of Openness in the Digital Age and Institutions also shared the status of these two initiatives of the AAOU.
The turnover ceremony of AAOU leadership was also held during the closing ceremony. Outgoing President, Dr. Bandalaria and Outgoing Secretary-General, Dr. Grace Alfonso passed the leadership to the Incoming President, Dr. Ojat Darojat, Rector of UT and Incoming Secretary-General, Dr. Rahmat Budiman, Head of Protocol & International Affairs of UT.
President of Pakistan, Dr. Arif Alvi, also graced the closing ceremony and delivered a closing address to the AAOU 2019 participants. Together with Dr. Bandalaria, Mr. Tariq and Dr. Babar, President Alvi presented the various awards to the AAOU winners such as the Meritorious Service Award, Best Paper Award, Best Practice Award, and Young Innovator Award.
The AAOU 2019 conference closed with an open invitation to attend the 34th AAOU Annual Conference hosted by the Open University of Sri Lanka on 21-23 October 2020 with the theme “Opening Minds for a Sustainable Future: Re-orienting ODL to Surmount Challenges”. (SFTanay)