Last month’s OBHE conference has found that digital tools and the provision of effective online learning can massively boost the reputation of an institution on both a national and international level.

The OBHE, or the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, is a higher education ‘think tank’ with institutional members across 30 different countries. At a December conference held at Regent’s University London, experts from the board discussed matters of online learning in a session called The New Landscape of Higher Education, which examined the influence of technology, partnerships, pathways and other education innovations upon the higher education sector.

The fact that online learning can be beneficial to a university in terms of both funding and international reputation is already public knowledge, but experts at the recent conference emphasised that it can also advance a country’s soft power (defined as a persuasive approach to international relations), as well as the reputation of its higher education sector, generally.

Speaking of the UK specifically, Rajay Naik, CEO of the education marketing and online learning service at Keypath Education, said how effective methods for online learning will enable the country to uphold its status as a global education leader.

“Online learning provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to continue to be that beacon in markets around the world,” he told The PIE News, before reminding professionals that UK universities must maintain the quality of their provisions, and affirm their importance among both students and employers.

“There is a fundamental difference between a free, short, unaccredited course and a formal, fee-paying, degree-accredited programme that delivers a significant certificate or degree at the end of it, and we must make sure that we never make that distinction unclear or blurred.

“This isn’t online learning 1.0; these are really immersive, engaging experiences,” Naik added, highlighting that this would require a “substantial capital”.

K. Holly Shiflett, solutions director in global education at Wiley Education Services, noted how the dedication of a university’s faculty mirrors the overall success of distance and online learning courses. These programmes obviously need sufficient funding if institutions are to capitalise on the benefits, but their success also greatly depends on the working academics’ commitment and understanding regarding digital pathways and strategies.

The Online College Students 2015 report found that 75% of students enrolled on online courses pursue higher education in order to get a job, jump careers, gain a promotion or even update their skillset, something Shiflett discussed to support the notion that digital students also have powerful aspirations.

Shiflett also noted that course accreditation is making the online learning option increasingly attractive by enhancing the reputation of digital learning strategies. “Employers don’t care so much about whether it was an online degree,” she said, “they care about the name of the school.”

Naik mentioned Coventry University in his address to delegates, since the institution has already enrolled two Saudi princes on its upcoming online programme.

“If you’re in a market like India, you want to stay in your job, you want to stay in that country with 8% growth,” he added. “…but being able to do so whilst studying at a world-class university, that creates a massive opportunity for us not only to do more around business and internationalisation, but also around our soft power influence.”

If institutions not only in the UK, but also across the world, recognise and act upon these important factors, their provision of a quality online learning service could draw the most talented international students to their higher education sector.

Image via Shutterstock.

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