Europeans run risk of copyright tug of war

November 19, 1999


Universities in Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and other countries are fast developing sophisticated internet-based learning packages that could reap significant rewards for copyright owners.

The European Union's E14 million (Pounds 9 million) Phare project has helped establish 52 national and regional distance-learning centres in 11 countries. A consortium of universities was set up linking each with at least one EU partner to develop software.

The consortium has developed distance-learning packages, the best of which are ready for market just as the six-year Phare programme ends next month.

Suzanne Robertson, director of learning development services at Sunderland University, led a team of assessors for Phare. At the closing conference in Budapest she said: "Most of the courses addressed their target audience very well and about a third did this extremely well.

"There is always the danger when academics get their hands on such courses that they will address them just at undergraduate audiences, but these did not."

The courses dealt with infrastructure reforms in post-communist Eastern Europe, such as energy conservation in Bulgaria and water treatment in Poland. They also covered such issues as European law, important for seeking EU membership.

Other courses targeted business and economics, internet awareness and electrical engineering. Many were based on sophisticated internet platforms with a range of alternative media such as CD-Roms, floppy discs, printed materials and telephone or personal contact with tutors.

Assessors looked for materials that enabled students to learn independently with activities and using some self-assessment.

The Technical University of Sofia did a project on electronics, design and English-language learning, involving partners in Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and Holland.

Aimed at undergraduates, postgraduates and electrical engineers in small and medium-sized companies, the 15-week, 180-hour course includes 60 hours of personal tutoring.

More than 470 students, including 300 employees of Belgo-Bulgarian electronics company Sygma-Delta, have already taken the course.

Elena Shoikova, director of the Technical University's distance learning and multimedia centre, said there was a potential market for a further 17,000 in Central and Eastern Europe.

Not all the packages have been so successful. At the University Medical School of Pecs, Hungary, a course in palliative care for terminally ill patients developed with Dundee University has run into copyright problems.

Senior lecturer Anna Bukovinszky said: "We made some proposals to Dundee but they were not accepted. Unfortunately, the good relationship we had appears to have been damaged."

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