Distance education

Distance education has been a defining feature of Deakin since its inception. Championed by Deakin’s first Vice-Chancellor, Fred Jevons, Deakin developed an international reputation as a creative and innovate distance education provider. Read more about the early days of distance education at Deakin.

Distance education was enthusiastically championed by Deakin’s first Vice-Chancellor, Fred Jevons. Before taking up his role at Deakin Jevons spent five months scouring Britain for the most innovative ideas. He found them all at the Open University. Sir Walter Perry of Walton, Vice-Chancellor of United Kingdom’s Open University, contributed to the planning and operation of Deakin and its distance education programs. Sir Walter Perry jointly received Deakin’s first honorary degree in May 1981.

Deakin University welcomed its first off-campus students in 1978, with 1250 enrolments. Around 300 came from the Geelong region, with the rest split between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria. Off-campus studies suited people from all walks of life. They were especially popular with country women – many with families – as well as those who were mature age, working or from rural regions. 

Two models dominated Deakin's approach to distance education in the early years:

  • the Humanities model – with weekend schools enabling students to meet and mingle, and small numbers of tutors travelling the state.

  • the Social Sciences model, using teaching staff with the support from Library, Student Services and other administrative staff.

Both models involved teaching in study centres or ad hoc locations.



In 1980 Deakin opened a study centre in Flinders Street, Melbourne. Further 'access centres' were successfully trialled throughout 1983 and 1984. They provided off-campus students with study materials and viewing rooms for videos, cassettes and slides.

Vice-Chancellor Fred Jevons presented three major international addresses on Deakin’s Open Campus programs. He described 1983 as a year of “growing reputation’’ for Deakin. “In distance education, our reputation is more than national, it is international,’’ he wrote. “The choice of Melbourne as the venue for the world conference on distance education in 1985 was, to some substantial extent, because of us.’’

In the mid-1980s Deakin joined other universities in exploring further possibilities of distance education. Deakin made an informal cooperative arrangement with Macquarie University, the University of New England, Murdoch University and the University of Queensland to facilitate inter-university enrolment and access to individual external units. The group also looked into the establishment of a course combination drawn from a common pool. Deakin was a major participant in the first International Conference on Distance Education held at La Trobe University in 1985. 

International interest

Word of the success of Deakin’s distance education program travelled far. The university welcomed its first international guests who came to study the innovative, off-campus mode. Deakin staff, in turn, travelled overseas to advance the off-campus concept. In an international coup and under the Australian Universities International Development Program, Deakin was selected as the major Australian university to train staff from Asian faculties on the preparation, writing and production of open campus material.

Staff from Malaysian and Thai universities spent three-month internships at Deakin, studying off-campus methods.  Deakin also extended the hand of friendship to staff from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, who sought advice from Deakin’s Distance Education Unit in setting up their own, off-campus MBA. The manager of Glasgow’s MBA Distance Learning Project visited to explore collaboration through the production of distance learning materials. They were impressed enough with what was happening at Geelong to adopt the same study methods. As Deakin had become the first Australian university to adopt an off-campus MBA, the University of Strathclyde became the first in the UK to do so.

1990s and early 2000s

Computer-based tutorials were introduced in 1991. For the first time in Australia, off-campus students could attend virtual tutorials, where they were able to talk to their teachers and peers.

In early 1991, Deakin became one of five founding institutions of the Open Learning Consortium. This initiative was designed to present units through television and radio broadcast nationally. The service was free but the public could pay to have credit for course work or assignments.

Good Universities Guide 1994 hailed Deakin as ‘the most creative and adventurous distance education provider, using mixtures of books and study guides, computers and modems, audio and videotapes, telephones and faxes to allow study at home in ways and times suited to individual preference.’

In 2001/02 Deakin became one of four members of World Alliance in Distance Education (WADE). WADE was a collaboration between Deakin University, Athabasca University (Canada), Open University (UK) and the Open University of Hong Kong. It explored collaboration in joint development and delivery of programs and course materials, as well as instituting credit transfer and award recognition.

Learning materials

Deakin established a reputation for high-quality teaching materials that supported the off-campus model. This engaged a much greater variety of students than just school leavers. Deakin’s first Chief Librarian, Margaret Cameron, was a key strength behind the open campus program. Under Cameron the library allowed off-campus students the same level of service as those on campus. The library transported books to off-campus students within 48 hours of receiving the request.  Cameron believed books should not be on shelves but in the hands of users.

The Development Unit within the Centre for Educational Services created print materials. Deakin's modest print run of study material avalanched with a range of top-quality publications to make it the largest academic publisher in Australia. It earned several design awards from the Australian Book Publishers Association. Deakin's Media Unit, meanwhile, developed audio-visual resources.