An innovative service, launched in March 2005 enables educational institutions and corporate organizations worldwide to access the immense pool of academic and professional expertise concentrated in London, UK via videoconferencing.
Today, many US and European universities resort to opening and maintaining campuses in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, to enable their students access to the wealth of experiences and teaching resources that the city offers.
In business, the advantages of professional and executive education are undermined by the significant travel and living costs combined with the prolonged absence of key employees from the work place.
According to the research conducted by the British Council, in fast developing economies like China and India the demand for highly experienced tutors and lecturers critically exceeds supply, affecting the realization of economic development to its full potential.
Teaching quality has also been a major concern. UNESCO states that "Faced with an unprecedented teacher shortage, some countries are now turning to low-paid, poorly trained teachers."
Addressing these issues, BridgesEducation (www.bridgeseducation.org) uses videoconferencing to deliver a wide range of lectures, seminars and programs designed and presented by hundreds of high-profile speakers from leading UK universities, research centers and companies.
This system not only ensures high academic standards, but also offers clear financial benefits. "It's a win-win situation," says Kemi Pearce from the Advisory Centre for Education, "We avoid costly travel, hotels and living expenses whilst we retain the energy and interactivity of live delivery."
Many in education have experienced videoconferencing in the past with different levels of success, resulting in hundreds of unused facilities on campuses around the world. But the technology has come a long way since it was introduced in the early 90s. Today it is not only much more affordable, reliable and interactive; it also offers features such as computer presentations, online broadcast and audience participation from multiple locations at one time.
Michelle Grant, development officer at BridgesEducation, is optimistic about global access to high quality tuition. "At present a few major centers offer a considerable proportion of academic and professional expertise. Now, with the help of technology, the location will become less and less relevant."
It may take time for traditional education providers to realize the power of technology to its full potential, but by using videoconferencing as its main method of delivery, BridgesEducation marks the beginning of a new era.
Stas Spector is a specialist in distance learning technology at the Advisory Centre for Education in London.