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Peoples-uni: public health capacity building through online education

By Keir Philip and Dick Heller

The provision of emergency nutritional interventions, as with any emergency interventions, begs the question: when the humanitarian workers leave, how can sustainability be achieved? Education is at the heart of sustainable health care provision. An educated workforce is one that can provide appropriate, adaptable and up to date approaches. However, accessing such education in low and middle income countries (LMIC) can be difficult. Many barriers to access exist, for example, individuals may not be able to get to universities, pay the fees, or take time off work. The issue is how to overcome these barriers, to ensure that the staff working in LMICs, both in the long and short term, can access the education needed to do their jobs.

The development of an educational initiative built around free and open access materials has the potential to overcome many of these barriers. The People's Open Access Educational Initiative ('Peoples-uni') is doing just that. The concept is relatively simple - to utilise online open-access resources, combined with highly qualified volunteer staff, to provide lowcost, high quality, fully accredited Public Health Education.

The underpinning aims and objectives of the initiative are:

Peoples-uni is accredited by the UK Royal Society for Public Health and students now will be able to gain academic awards from Manchester Metropolitan University from their studies with People's-uni. By successful completion of course modules, students can gain a Certificate, Diploma, or even a Masters (MPH). The cost of the course is kept to a minimum through the use of volunteer course facilitators (though all highly qualified educationalists and Public Health Practitioners), using open-access resources and the charity status of the project. This allows the Peoples-uni to charge only £30 per module, making it possible to achieve an MPH for around £300. To further facilitate access to education, the course uses asynchronous discussions, is run online over two-week periods, and individuals are able to access course reading materials and contribute in their own time. This reduces some of the time scale barriers imposed by conventional 'face to face' education.

Examples of modules that may be relevant especially to Field Exchange readership include the Public Health Nutrition module, which has been running since 2009, and the Disaster Management and Emergency Planning module launched at the start in 2008.

Each semester the student intake has grown, with very positive feedback. The intention is to continue this growth in student intake, while refining and improving the modules. If you would like to contribute to the development or delivery of modules, please get in contact. There are many ways to get involved with the Peoples-uni, whether as a student or staff, and the team are very keen to develop partnerships with other organisations who share our aims for capacity building.

Visit www.peoples-uni.org for more details on potential opportunities, and feel free to contact Dick Heller at rfheller@peoples-uni.org or Keir Philip at kejphilip@gmail.com.

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Keir Philip and Dick Heller (2011). Peoples-uni: public health capacity building through online education. Field Exchange 41, August 2011. p44. www.ennonline.net/fex/41/peoples

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