THE QUALITY OF DISTANT TRAINING AT D. A. TSENOV ACADEMY OF ECONOMICS A MUST FOR THE SUCCESSFUL REALIZATION OF THE EDUCATIONAL PRODUCT
assoc. prof. GEORGI IVANOV, PhD
D. A TSENOV ACADEMY OF ECONOMICS, SVISHTOV,
ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL CONTROL DEPARTMENT,
Director of the Centre for Quality of Training
The main priority of D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics in Svishtov, being one of the leading universities in the field of economics in the Republic of Bulgaria, is, among its many activities, the constant improvement of the quality of training . At the same time, the Academy of Economics aims at keeping up to date with the major globalization processes in the field of higher education taking place worldwide nowadays, i.e., it is functioning in a global environment that is characterized with accepting the principles of the market economy and academic autonomy, the parallel borrowing of cultural values, and increasing the inter-institutional contacts based on the fast-developing information technologies. This features a new and wide range of opportunities for the Academy of Economics in its strive to offer an educational product within those parameters in which it has created the most innovative and high-quality training processes.
It is namely the challenge of a constant improvement in the technology and quality of the distant training at D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics in Svishtov viewed as an opportunity for offering a high-quality educational product to international students that will be the subject for discussion in this paper.
Higher education is not alien to the processes of globalization. The strive of many young people from different countries, including Bulgaria and Egypt, over the last decades, to get admission to universities outside their own countries, shows a clear tendency for unification of the curricula, requirements and the philosophy of training at the different universities. In its essence, globalization as a process requires that everyone must have equal access to it, irrespective of nationality, gender, religion or social status (The Lisbon 1992, Sorbonne 1998 and Bologna 1999 declarations).
The impact of globalization on higher education is directed to many areas, but it generally concerns the subjects in the educational process the students, the lecturers and the universities . Those three are prone to globalization changes arising mainly from the opportunities for communication without borders between countries, language barriers and real time.
Today, students, as subjects of the educational process, do not consider factors like religion, ethnos and gender a serious obstacle towards their acquiring an educational degree. However, the social status, the development and the international state of the country where they live and the access to information technologies are becoming more and more key problems for this. Foreign language illiteracy remains a serious barrier from the point of view of the communications in the field of education. The more serious problem, though, is the limited access to information technologies, which generally requires more investment both at macro and micro level.
As for lecturers, as subjects of the educational process, the challenges of globalization are noticeable through a process of a steady movement from more traditional methods of training (lectures and seminars) to more contemporary ones, where students individual work, case solving, writing term papers, team and group work, combined with the use of contemporary computer technologies is given a greater priority. The lecturer begins to play the role of a moderator or monitor rather than a direct source of knowledge. This is logical, owing to the fact that nowadays the Internet offers a great variety of information that every student can use in his/her studies. On the other hand, lecturers tend to put an end to their isolated individual scientific research and begin to solve their scientific problems together with colleagues from other universities or scientific institutes.
Globalization challenges the universities themselves, including D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics, in a way that they can search for different, alternative, contemporary and high-technology forms of organizing the training process, which allows the free transfer of knowledge and the direct communication between lecturers and students. Achieving such type of training would enable the universities to offer a high-quality and profitable educational product that would go beyond not only the borders of the academic campus of the corresponding city where the university is located, but also the borders of the country or region itself. Thus the universities would develop their own training programs together with the business, without separating the students from the production by co-operating with numerous corporate training programs (according to UNESCO only in the USA such programs are over 1200) and would train young people from other regions and countries without their leaving their countries.
From the point of view of the impact of globalization on the higher education system, we can make the following conclusions:
First there is a global trend towards increasing the opportunities for student mobility, especially when the national, language and communication barriers are no longer a problem;
Second lecturers constantly strive to raise the quality of the training and the accompanying scientific research on the basis of modern information technologies;
Third the universities constantly aim at developing the offered educational products on the basis of high-technology and information know-how in the various forms of training whose objective is to cross the borders and overcome the obstacles to the access of training.
Globalization makes the contact between the various participants in the educational process on a worldwide level easier, but it is still to lead to a significant number of graduates, especially in the countries of the Third world. It is also to make sure all young people have equal access to education. According to UNESCO, the ratio of number of students per 10,000 citizens clearly shows the regional differences. For example, in the countries of South America this ratio varies between 150 and 300 people per 10,000 citizens, while in the countries of the European Union it is between 150 and 400 people per 10,000 citizens; in the USA it is over 500 people.  In comparison, in China this ratio is 45/10,000, in India 60/10,000 and in Morocco 113/10,000, in Algeria 123/10,000, in Tunisia 125/10,000. In Egypt this ratio is relative the highest among the rest of the Arabian countries approximately 190/10,000, since Egypt has the best functioning higher education system in the developing world (approximately 1,670 million students in 2000/2001) .
The data analysis shows that there are still great restraints concerning the provision of young people, especially those who live in the so called Third World with access of higher education. The universities in Bulgaria as a full member of the European Union and as a part of the so called European space for education can and should take part in the globalization process providing young people from countries where the social, political or economic situation is unfavorable with opportunities for access to higher education. One of the alternatives of such co-operation is the development of some alternative forms of training, partly the distant training, which is a means of overcoming the time and space limits in the educational process.
As a result of the globalization in the field of higher education, over the last years the universities, including D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics, have begun to search for and realize in practice various alternatives to the traditional forms of training. The space for educational was populated by such forms like Web-based learning, online learning, e-learning. Despite the different shades in these forms of training applied worldwide, what is common among them is the so called distant form of organizing the process of training. The distant form of training has many definitions in the world theory and practice.
According to Hill distant training is giving instruction, through printed or electronic media, to a person who studies at a different place and time from the lecturers or the other students.
According to Willis & Dickinson we have distant training when the lecturer and the students are physically separated and the technologies (sound, picture, printed media, etc.), often combined with direct communication, are used to make a connection between the two sides.
According to Mielke distant training can be defined as a method of training through which the student is physically separated from the educational institution.
Basically, distant training can be applied individually or in a combination with other forms of training, including the traditional face-to-face instruction. Any distant training course, though, must have an instructor, one or more students and a syllabus that the instructor follows when training the students. As with the traditional type of training, the distant students must be examined, evaluated and assisted where necessary so that they sit their exams well prepared. This necessitates a two-way communication. Training can be individual or in groups, but in both cases it can be carried out without the lecturers physical presence. The syllabus must be structured in such a way that it allows the student to learn from a distance. This requires a brand new type of organizational, technological and information know-how, which requires additional investment made by the universities if they want to develop a distant form of training.
Today, the modern information and communication technologies provide new opportunities for solving the problems with distant training. The use of various forms of electronic media increases the efficiency and improves the quality of supply of information. The various types of multimedia applications provide additional help in the learning of new material. The supply of the materials can be synchronous, i.e., the participants can communicate in real time, or asynchronous, where everyone communicates at different time .
The types of distant training can be divided into various categories depending on the time and place of carrying out the process of training. The instructors, the students and the materials can be at different places and can co-operate at different time. Table 1.1 shows the different categories of distant training according to the time and place of the participants in the training process.
Table 1.1 Categories of distant training according to time and place
Synchronous (at the same time) Asynchronous (at different time)
At the same place Traditional training (in a classroom)
Direct use of technologies in computer labs (computer-aided training, Web-based training). Asynchronous distant training (in training labs or centers)
Individually timed training (computer-based training on CDs and HDDs).
At different places Distant training in a real time
Live courses through high-speed internet connection, LAN or satellites (Web-based training, teleconference, video tele-training). Distributed Education
Individually timed training regardless of geographical location (video recordings, Web-based training, computer-based training). This can also involve aspects of the other categories of distant training.
(source: Belanger & Jordan)
Since distant training is a relatively new phenomenon, many people today ask themselves the question is this means of training efficient enough and what quality can we expect to be offered? Some of the most frequently asked questions are:
Is distant training as efficient and of such quality as traditional training?
Which factors influence the choice of the most suitable technologies to be used in a particular situation and for a particular group of students?
How important is it and what part does the co-operation between the instructors and the students and among the students themselves occupy?
What are the expenses for planning and developing distant training syllabi and what is the degree of returns on the investment?
The research and experience in the practices around the world show that distance training can be as efficient and of high quality as the traditional attendance training as long as a few key requirements are met:
There must be good co-operation between students and lecturers;
The training requires that methods and technologies suitable for it are used;
There must be a reliable feedback with the students through which they will receive a fair evaluation of their knowledge;
A system for maintaining a high quality that corresponds to the characteristics of this type of training must function efficiently.
What has been said so far leads to a few particular conclusions concerning the efficiency, quality and the future of the distant form of training. These are namely:
First the distant form of training establishes itself more and more in the high education worldwide because it creates opportunities for training young people who do not have the chance to acquire a degree in the traditional way or who live in distant or underdeveloped regions; who are aiming toward a second parallel degree; whose specificity of work does not allow them to attend courses in the traditional way.
Second distant training is not only as efficient and of high quality as traditional training, but in some aspects it gives certain advantages like: the opportunity to use modern information technologies in the training process, shortening the long distances that must be travelled by both the students and instructors in order to attend lectures; the training does not require the student to leave his/her environment or workplace in order to attend lectures.
Third distant training, when having a well-organized, technological and educational know-how, would contribute for the formation of a new quality of the educational process that will find its expression in the opportunities that the students will have to master their knowledge in the field of the information technologies and communications alongside with the particular theoretical knowledge.
The distant form of training as well as the traditional ones requires an appropriate system of managing both the quality of the training process and the final educational product. Managing the quality at the contemporary institutions of higher education, and especially in the distant form of training if such is developed, is a serious challenge to their governing bodies. The higher education practice in Bulgaria is regulated by the normative acts  that determine the necessity for creating and maintaining internal systems for management and control of the quality.
In this context, one of the top priorities of the governing body of D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics in Svishtov is namely the improvement of the quality standards in all forms of training, including the distant one.
D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics in Svishtov can be viewed as one of the leading institutions of higher education in Bulgaria regarding the distant form of training. This form was first introduced at the Academy in 1999 for the training of students in the educational degree of Master, and up to know it has attracted 2,500 students to it (in comparison of a total of 11,200 students in a full-time, part-time and distant forms of training, or 22.32%) in 72 Master degree programs that offer more than 149 courses. The governing body of D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics wishes to develop this form of training as its policy is directed towards innovations in more contemporary and high quality technologies based on the Internet.
The Academy of Economics has created its own recourses for training students in the distant form of training that is entirely based on the innovative platform for communications and information support Virtual Joint Learning (VJL). It allows access to the learning resources and instructors of practically all around the world where there is obviously an Internet connection. On the other hand, the other main priority of the governing body of the Academy concerning the distant form of training is the quality of training and the offered educational product.
Securing the quality of training at the Academy of Economics is situated as a whole concept on the basis of the international quality standard BDS EN ISO 9001:2000 that in accordance with the requirements in the current normative act  for this segment also contains a component for assessing and maintaining the quality of training and the academic body in the distant Master programs developed by the institution of higher education. In compliance with the requirements of standard BDS EN ISO 9001:2000 the whole System for managing the quality (SMQ) at the Academy of Economics is structured on the basis of the model for process-oriented system for managing the quality. The objective of the system as regards the distant training is to:
guarantee that the educational product of the distant training Master programs meets the requirements;
guarantee that the processes of planning, admitting, training and graduating the students are reliable and efficient;
guarantee that the prescribed rules for managing the processes are followed by the key coordinators;
guarantee that the system is constantly improving, i.e. that the requirements of the students (clients) and the normative acts will be met.
In summary of all that has been mentioned so far, we can form the following conclusions:
First In order to remain in the world space for higher education any institution, including D. A. Tsenov Academy of Economics, must follow the tendencies of the globalization process and its reflection in the field of higher education.
Second The Academy of Economics, within the framework of its place in the national and European space for higher education must continue the policy for removing the educational borders through innovative technologies and entering those markets that up to now have remained outside the range of vision of the rest of the universities.
Third The resources of the Academy in the area of distance training provide access to the system to students from abroad, including young people from Egypt with access to it. Within the framework of the contracts between the Academy of Economics and the University of Ismailia it is possible to undertake actions for developing joint programs for Master training that are entirely based on the platform for distance training.
1. Мандатна програма за дейността на Стопанска академия Д. А. Ценов за периода юни 2007 г. май 2011 г.
2. Вж. Пенерлиев, М., Глобализацията и висшето образование, Електронно списание LiterNet, 2004, № 7 (56)
5. Hill, J. R., Distance Learning Environments Via the World Wide Web. In Badrul Khan Web-Based Instruction Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1997 (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/ EDTEC596/about_WebQuests.html)
6. Willis, B., & Dickinson, J., Distance Education and the World Wide Web. In Badrul Khan Web-Based Instruction Educational Technology Publications, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1997 (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/ EDTEC596/about_WebQuests.html)
7. Mielke, D., Effective Teaching in Distance Education. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC, 1999 (http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/EDTEC596/about_WebQuests.html)
8. http://www.it.fmi.uni-sofia.bg/courses/slearning/OsnovniVuprosi/distanceon no_obuchenie.html
9. Belanger, F., & Jordan, D. H., Evaluation and Implementation of Distance Learning: Technologies, Tools and Techniques. Idea Group Publishing, Hershey USA, London UK, 2000
10. Вж. Закон за висшето образование, чл. 6, ал. 4 и 5, ДВ бр. 112/27.12.1995, посл. изм. ДВ бр. 48/04.06.2004
11. Вж. Наредба за Държавните изисквания за организацията и провеждането на дистанционна форма на обучение за придобиване на образователно-квалификационни степени във Висшите училища, чл. 7 (1) и чл. 14.