Student Support: The Engine of Attaining and Sustaining Quality in the Zimbabwe Open University
Quality student service is one of the main concerns among institutions and stakeholders today especially those involved in Open and Distance Learning (ODL) because it is the engine for quality practices. This study examined the views of students and student advisors on student services that will lead to attaining and sustaining quality in the Zimbabwe Open University. The study was qualitative, collecting data through open-ended questionnaires and interviews from a purposive sample of 223 students and nine student advisors. The study found out that implementing one-stop student services housed at the learner support centre and backed by 10 regional campus centres will lead to attaining and sustaining quality. The respondents cited support system that includes library, Internet, and ancillary services as critical aspects that connects students to the institution. Respondents further impressed that tutor availability, timely giving feedback, face-to-face tutoring and/or online tutoring support and counseling, are critical if student support is to be the engine of attaining and sustaining quality in an ODL context. The study recommended more competent, information literate tutors to be employed, receive extensive training and have their performance assessed for effectiveness in student support. Lead tutors must be appointed from the most competent tutors to mentor others on supporting students. It also recommended further research to be conducted involving more institutions and more respondents.
Key words: Open and distance learning (ODL), student services, quality, student support centre, information literacy and counselling.