There are a wide variety of tertiary level distance education systems, but the fundamental principles are the same: namely that the learner and the instructor must be apart most of the time; that some form of media must be used for communication; there should be provision for student support and occasional face-to-face contact and that there must be an organisation offering instruction. The distance education system can be split into several subsystems depending on need. Three root elements are sometimes perceived: the administration subsystem, the course development subsystem and the student support subsystem. Distance education (DE) students face many problems. The major one is the feeling of social isolation, which can be minimised if the student interacts with other people. Some students are more capable of coping with distance education than others. Emotional, motivational and learning problems appear to be the same cross-culturally. There are however differences interculturally between students, in the availability and use of media. These differences may be more economical than cultural. All DE students are agreed that books constitute the most effective medium for them to succeed in their studies. This makes an understanding of existing communications infrastructure vital in distance education provision.
Many countries are adopting distance education because of pressure on university places. Zimbabwe is currently facing an enormous problem, which is further aggravated by the countryâ€™s colonial history. The University of Zimbabwe has attempted to respond to this pressure by extending its part-time programme. However, very little is known about part-time students and their problems at the UZ. The issues some of these students raise are a cause for grave concern. Immediate action needs to be taken and several proposals have been made. Specific recommendations are that: communication between staff and distance education students must be improved; key books must be available to students at appropriate times; all students must be accommodated by the university during residential periods; more effective use should be made of available media; costing of courses must be rationalised and standardised; The study also has important implications: for the design of multi-media distance education systems in general; for selection and the use of media; for student support; for cross-cultural differences; and for regional and international cooperation. Four options for the improvement and expansion of DE at the University of Zimbabwe and in Zimbabwe in general are discussed. These are: . in the short term, the improvement of current provision; in the medium term, dual mode (e.g. a Centre for Distance Education) at the UZ;
â€¢ in the long term, dual mode (e.g. Institute of Distance Education) in a new institution;
â€¢ a Zimbabwean Open University;