Will students start to favour online education?


As students begin to consider what life might have in store for them after university, higher education institutions are questioning the stability of their future. With the rising cost of tuition paired with constant claims of degrees being awarded too easily, it is not surprising that students, especially within the UK, do not particularly feel that they have justified cause to celebrate.

For hundreds years, the university structure has remained more or less untouched; comprehensive lectures are designed to impart students with the knowlege they need to pass their course exams; it is then the students’ own responsibility to revise what they have learned, which commonly results in last-minute ‘cramming’ before the final examinations. This model has not evolved along with society’s advancements in education and technology, leaving established teaching and learning methods open to threat from all of these modern advancements.

Recent headlines reveal that tuition fees are once more expected to rise in institutions that are considered academically sound, and with the lifeline of maintenance grants scheduled to be scrapped, the future is looking increasingly bleak for students students aspiring to Higher Education, and many are looking into the feasibility of taking their studies to a reputable overseas university.

Earlier this week, research from The Student Room revealed that the number of students worried about the fees for their studies and the cost of living has doubled in the past two years alone. With these costs continuing to rise and financial support persistently shrinking, the number of UK students who feel they do not have access to higher education will also continue to increase.

This survey was conducted before the government’s announcement of the maintenance grant being cut, and more than half of the participants claimed that the announcement meant they’d have to seriously reconsider the path to higher education. A fifth of the respondents noted university as entirely out of the question.

At the same time that governments conclude they can’t afford to subsidise universities as generously as they used to, a technological revolution is challenging the university business model. A rapid boom in free online education means the knowledge that was once reserved for the elite is now available to everyone in possession of a laptop or a smartphone.

There are definite advantages to studying online, and these are demonstrated by non-profit tuition free organisations such as UoPeople (University of the People), which is fully accredited in its own right to award people with degrees.

UoPeople bases its headquarters in California, and is primarily aimed at international students who do not have access to such high standards of education. In recent years, they have seen growing numbers of Brits among their student cohort, and the organisation claims that they expect it will continue to rise. The university has already forged networks with Yale and New York University, as well as partners such as Microsoft and the United Nations.

UoPeople boasts courses that are entirely tuition-free, and even offers financial assistance for those who can’t afford the $50 application fee, or the $100 fee for each exam. The organisation has shocked sceptics as from these fees alone, it is already set to become financially stable within the next year.

UoPeople differs greatly to traditional universities as it does not have extensive entry requirements. All that is required is that applicants must be 18 years or older, proficient in English, and able to prove that they have successfully completed High School. Students require regular internet access, though second-rate broadband should not be an issue as the teaching is delivered through emails and discussion boards, and downloads are available for those wishing to study offline.

UoPeople President told The Telegraph: “What we are doing is building a model to show that higher education can be affordable and accessible.

“We want to open the doors wide, to make it affordable, but make sure that those who graduate from us find a job, because those that come to us don’t come to us to have general study, they come to us in order to have a better chance for a better future.

“We’re building the model to show universities that they can take many more students than they do right now. Many of them don’t want to, because…they want to be exclusive.”

Sir Colin Lucas, former University of Oxford Vice Chancellor, is a member of UoPeople’s President’s Council. He said: “I think my hunch is that, for quite a long time now, the standard model of what a university should look like; where it all looked much the same wherever you went…I think that’s all breaking up.

“The question is more where [online education] will fit within that, rather than a straight displacement.”

With fees continuing to rise as higher education becoming less and less accessible, and student satisfaction on an increasingly sharp decline, it is not surprising that many students are in search of a quality education alternative. What is in store for the ‘Student Experience’ if the number of students enrolling in online courses also continues to rise? With these continuous advancements in technology and growing tensions between academics and the establishment, what is in store for the future of higher education within this ‘Digital Age’?