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Alison Mead Richardson

Comparative cost analysis in distance teacher education

Alison Mead Richardson
Kigali Institute of Education : Distance Training Office

Distance education is often hailed as the answer to African governments’ problems of educational provision. Claims are made that DE can improve the access to, and quality of, educational provision and at a lower unit cost. Distance education is chosen because of its power to stretch educational resources. It is indeed true, DE can provide greater access to quality education at a lower cost than conventional education – but so often it fails in one or more of these important elements.

This paper seeks to identify the important issues in the comparative cost analysis of distance and conventional teacher training in Rwanda. It will consider:
• coherence of student profiles
• the effects of student drop out
• economies of scale

The paper will show that in gross terms, the KIE distance teacher training programme is nearly 20% cheaper than the campus- based programme. However, if adjustments are made to take key issues in costing into account, then this differential is increased to make distance provision much more cost effective than the conventional programme.

Untitled Document

The Government of Rwanda (GoR) has set itself a goal of UPE by 2015. Like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda has a high proportion of unqualified teachers. A research study carried out by UNESCO showed that more than 65% of secondary teachers in government and government-aided schools in Rwanda are unqualified (Drique & Wassehove 2000). A later study (Douse 2003) shows that 48% of secondary teachers have D6/D7 or lower. The GoR has made many advances in the education sector post genocide and enrolment in secondary education has trebled from 50,000 in 1995 to nearly 170,000 in 2003. (World Bank 2003)
The Revised Education Sector Policy Document published by MINEDUC in 2002 makes the following policy statements:

  • Teachers at all levels shall be trained in sufficient number and quality.
  • Both pre-service and in-service teacher training methods with the use of distance learning shall be strengthened.

In 1998, GoR created Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) to take responsibility for teacher training in the country. In 1999, KIE admitted 300 students to its pre-service programme and they will graduate in 2003. It was quickly realised that the conventional preservice training at KIE could not train the large number of unqualified serving teachers needed to cope with increasing secondary enrolment.
KIE started delivering the first national distance training programme (DTP) for teachers in December 2001. The Department for International Development of the British Government (DFID), agreed to fund programme set-up costs, development and delivery for the first cohort of 500 students. This cohort is expected to graduate with Diplomas in 2005.

Aims of the study
The primary aim of this study was to find out which of KIE’s teacher training programmes produces qualified secondary teachers at the lower unit cost: the full-time, campus-based programme or the part-time distance training programme.

In the study, a comparison is made between the costs of providing the first 3 years of the full time degree programme and the 4 year, part-time diploma programme.

A comparative costing analysis carried out on the KIE preservice and inservice teacher training programmes revealed that the following (based on the number of students at 01 October 03):

The cost per student for 3 years of the preservice programme is
FRW 3,731,637 (3789 students)

The cost per student for 4 years of the inservice distance training programme (equivalent to 3 years preservice) is
FRW 3,027,451(474 students)

This means that, in gross terms, the distance training programme costs 81% of the preservice programme.


There are many issues involved in costing different educational options, especially when distance education for serving teachers is involved. The 4 main issues are:

  • coherence of student profiles
  • the effects of student drop out
  • economies of scale
  • cost implications for government

Coherence of student profiles
There are important differences in the profile of students of the KIE preservice and inservice programmes. Compared to KIE preservice students, DTP students tend to:

  • be older
  • be working full time as lower secondary teachers
  • have family commitments
  • have lower educational qualifications
  • have not studied for many years
  • be highly motivated to gain their qualifications and improve their standard of living
  • want to improve their knowledge in order to be better teachers.

These differences have implications for the design of the distance training programme but should also be noted by policy makers. The higher level of motivation and commitment to teaching (especially in rural schools) amongst distance students is an important factor in this cost analysis.

The effects of student drop out
If high numbers of students drop out of teacher training programmes or do not join the teaching profession after graduation, this has an impact on unit costs. Drop out of KIE programmes is generally low.

By the end of Year 2 in the 2001 entry cohort on the preservice programme, dropout was 6%.

By the end of Year 2 in the 2001 entry cohort on the DTP, dropout was 5%.

Low student dropout is a feature of fully-funded teacher training programmes throughout Africa. (Perraton 1993, MUSTER 1999)

However, there is another aspect which must be considered – how many graduating students of the preservice programme ultimately join the teaching profession? Research carried out with the 2001 preservice cohort at KIE indicates that 40% will probably choose not to enter teaching when they graduate. This has an important effect on unit costs.

The unit cost for 3 years preservice with only 60% graduates joining the teaching profession is FRW 6,231,160

If drop out from the distance education programme is also taken into account, at 5% per 2 years – we find a unit cost of FRW 3,188,915


The difference in unit costs is now FRW 3,042,245 per student
the distance training programme costs 51% less per student than the campus based programme (where only 60% of graduates join the teaching profession).

DTP unit cost (450 students) 3,188,915 x 100 = 51%
Preservice unit cost (-40% students) 6,231,160

Economies of scale

An overriding feature of distance training is expected economies of scale. This is related to the relationship between fixed and variable costs and the concept of marginal cost.

A marginal cost is the cost of providing one more unit of the product or service, ie in this case of adding one more student to the programme. For example:

If the DE student cohort is increased by one, the marginal cost would be only the cost of printing one more set of materials and the marking of one more examination script. The fixed costs of the programme would not be affected. This could also be true of conventional programmes. Increasing the number of students by a small amount would probably not have any effect on the costs.

However, if the distance training programme cohort is doubled, (studying the same subjects) the marginal costs are still relatively small – 500 sets of materials, 500 more exam scripts plus student travel and accommodation. Existing student support staff and facilities could accommodate the increase in student numbers. NB These marginal increases are even less if there is a smaller component of face to face than currently provided in the DTP.

If we increase the number of DTP students to 1000, the marginal costs would double (those costs which increase with the number of students on the programme). This gives a total programme cost of just over
FRW 1,000,000,000 (one billion Rwandese francs) and a unit cost of
FRW 1,000,000 (one million Rwandese francs.)

This is about 25% of the unit cost if only 450 students were to complete the programme.

However, if the cohort on the preservice programme was doubled, KIE would need to expand the infrastructure of the college to provide more classrooms and laboratories, more student accommodation, double the government bursaries, increase capacity in the library, computer labs etc. A considerable increase in teaching staff and some academic and support staff would be needed if teacher-student ratios were not to increase to an unacceptable level.

Table 8 shows the cost of staff salaries as a percentage of the total KIE expenditure per annum (excluding DTO staff costs). It also shows the staff cost per student each year.

Year KIE expenditure Staff salaries % Student Numbers Staff cost per student
99/00* 647,000,000 250,000,000 39 638 391,850
2001 854,192,000 363,642,000 43 889 409,046
2002 1,677,098,531 1,006,247,540 60 1229 818,753
2003 1,895,457,711 1,032,519,699 54 1671 617,905

Table 8 KIE salaries as a percentage of total annual expenditure

This would seem to be in line, or even a little lower, than the findings of the MUSTER researchers, who found that staff salary costs typically account for between 50% and 90% of all recurrent costs per student (Lewin 1999).

Table 9 shows the cost of student bursaries (for full-time students) as a percentage of the total KIE expenditure per annum. It also shows the unit cost per student each year

Year KIE expenditure Student bursaries % Student Numbers Unit cost
99/00* 647,000,000 182,000,000 28 638 285,266
2001 854,192,000 282,000,000 33 889 317,210
2002 1,677,098,531 338,710,000 20 1229 275,598
2003 1,895,457,711 417,500,000 22 1671 249,850

Table 9 Bursaries to preservice students as % of total annual expenditure

Between 20% & 33% of KIE annual expenditure goes on bursaries to students. If KIE developed a mixed mode of preservice training, utilising the distance training materials, with some school-based training and teaching practice and shorter residential periods, this percentage could be reduced.

The difference in the balance of the variable/marginal costs between the two modes of delivery means that KIE could significantly increase the number of students on the distance training programme and the cost per student would decrease substantially. This is not true for the campus-based preservice programme.

Cost implications for government
Inservice teacher training by distance education allows teachers to continue working while they improve their qualifications. This has 2 important implications for government salary costs:

a. There will be an increase in the government teachers’ salary bill once 500 teachers gain diplomas through the DTP.
b. The cost of taking inservice teachers out of the classroom if there were no distance training programme.

a. Increase in the government teachers’ salary bill once 500 teachers gain diplomas through the DTP.
The entry qualifications to the DTP are D6/D7 – which is equivalent to 6 or 7 years of secondary education – and no teacher training.
The salary for this level (with housing and transport allowances) is in the range FRW 48,000 – 23,000 with 10 incremental steps. If we assume that on average DTP students had 5 years experience when they joined the programme, then the average monthly salary is FRW 35,500.

Monthly salary 35,500
No. of students x 500
17,750,000 per month for 500 unqualified teachers

The salary for a teacher with a diploma (with housing and transport allowance) is in the range FRW 62,000 – 32,500 with 10 incremental steps. When DTP teachers graduate they will have, on average, 9 years teaching experience which will give them a qualified teacher salary (Diploma + 9) of FRW 56,100.
Monthly salary 56,100
No. of students x 500
28,050,000 per month for 500 Diploma holders
If we allow for a further 5% drop out in the remaining half of the programme to take us to 450 students then the monthly government salary bill will be FRW for the 450 newly qualified teachers (NQTs).

Monthly Salaries 450 NQTs 25,245,000 -
Monthly Salaries 500 UQTs 17,750,000
7,495,000 x 12 = FRW 89,940,000

So the government monthly salary bill will increase by approximately FRW 7,495,000 per month if 450 DTP students graduate and continue to teach.

The increase in MINEDUC annual salary bill of 450 teachers gaining Diplomas is approximately FRW 90,000,000.

b. If there was no DTP then all teacher training would be full-time, campus-based.
What is the cost of taking the inservice teachers out of schools in order to teach them full time? What would be the cost of replacing them?
If there was no DTP and the only form of teacher training was full-time on campus at KIE or NUR, then GoR would have to replace the teachers while they attended classes (as well as pay their salaries). This is a hypothetical issue as there are no teachers available to replace them, but assuming they could be replaced with other, unqualified teachers, then the figures would look like this:

Monthly salary 23,000 (unqualified teachers, no experience)
No. of students x 500
11,500,000 per month
Months of programme x 36
Additional salary bill 414,000,000

The additional cost to MINEDUC of replacing inservice teachers (with unqualified teachers with no experience) if they were to attend classes full time is FRW 414,000,000 over the 3 year programme.

The primary aim of this study was to find out which of KIE’s teacher training programmes produces qualified secondary teachers at the lower unit cost.

The figures show that even with a completing cohort of only 450 students, the unit costs are lower for distance training than for the conventional programme.

DTP unit cost (450 students) 3,184,725 x 100 = 51%
Preservice unit cost (60% students) 6,231,160

The effects of economies of scale showed that a 100% increase in the size of the cohort would result in a decrease in DTP unit costs to about 16% of the cost of the conventional programme.

DTP unit cost (1000 students) 1,000,000, x 100 = 16%
Preservice unit cost (60% students) 6,231,160

Therefore it is clear that the distance training programme produces qualified secondary teachers at a lower cost than the conventional preservice, campus-based programme.

A comparison of the features of each of the KIE teacher training programmes reveals important differences.

Inservice distance education programme Campus-based preservice programme
Lower unit cost Higher unit cost
Lower capital expenditure Higher capital expenditure
Lower marginal costs Higher marginal costs
Lower fixed and higher variable costs Higher fixed and lower variable costs
Benefits from economies of scale No benefit from economies of scale
Graduates more likely to remain in teaching High proportion of graduates likely not to become teachers
Low drop out Low drop out

Of course, programmes do not only have a cost, they also have a value. There is a value to MINEDUC of creating a cadre of trained distance educators in Rwanda. This programme has touched the working practices of many educators:

  • More than 30 full time professional staff in DTO
  • More than 80 writers
  • More than 80 part time Subject Tutors and Heads in regional distance training centres
  • 500 unqualified secondary school teachers

If the KIE DTP is only the first of many national distance training programmes in Rwanda, then a valuable resource has been created from which those programmes can draw.

Distance education is the only possible form of education for some individuals. It allows us to offer programmes to different groups of potential students:

  • those who are working full time
  • those who live in very rural areas
  • those who are physically prevented from travelling or living away from home on residential courses
  • women who cannot or will not leave their family responsibilities to fulfil their own educational aspirations
  • those who had a bad experience previously in the formal education sector and want to return to complete their education

A comparative cost analysis of teacher education programmes inevitably leads to recommendations for educational policy makers.

GoR Policy Objectives

In the Education Sector Strategic Policy Document (2002 pg 27), Policy Objective Secondary Education 7, states a GoR objective to:
Ensure quality teaching in secondary schools

The indicative targets for this objective are:
1. The percentage of qualified secondary teachers will be increased by 5% per year
2. The number of teachers upgrading by DE will be increased from 500 to 1500 by 2008

The stated strategy in response to this policy objective is to increase the number of qualified teachers through inservice training, including distance education.

On the basis of the stated objectives of this study, the following ten recommendations are offered for consideration by MINEDUC:

Kigali Institute of Education

1.Consider the selection procedures for the KIE preservice programme and take steps to ensure that drop out is minimised and a high percentage of graduates join the teaching profession. This may include some form of bonding agreement.
2. Ensure that the KIE distance education programme can be funded sufficiently from government budget to ensure the continuation and expansion of the programme.
3. Investigate cost-sharing mechanisms for the DTP.
4. Ensure that a programme of research into the effectiveness of both the inservice distance teacher training programme and the preservice programme is instigated, including tracer studies for the first cohort graduating from the preservice programme in 2003.
5. Consider a mixed mode of training for preservice teachers which includes distance education and school-based training as well as residential periods on campus.

Higher Education
6. Continue to train managers of HEIs in programme costing and require them to carry out cost analyses of existing programmes.
7. Require HEI managers to consider different modes of delivery and produce projected unit costs of all planned new programmes before implementation.
Other Education Sectors
8. Investigate the use of open and distance learning for other programmes, such as alternative secondary programmes for adult returners and out of school youth, adult literacy, technical and vocational training, and continuing professional development in other sectors.

Distance Education Policy & Strategy
9 There is an urgent need to develop a national policy & strategy for distance education to ensure that there is a coherent plan for the use of DE in all phases of education in Rwanda and to prevent ‘ad hoc’ programmes from being developed and resources duplicated.

10 Institutional policy frameworks need to be developed to take into account the move towards a dual-mode approach. This approach, which sees distinct DE programmes offered alongside traditional face-to-face programmes, should develop towards a flexible-learning mode approach, in which course designers select from the full range of methods available, the right one for a particular group of students or to attract previously uncatered-for students.

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