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Online learning: short-term fix or threat to future fees?

Thursday 23rd April 2020

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One big question for universities in the coming months will be how far they can employ online teaching to get round lockdowns that are keeping millions of students out of lecture halls across the world. And whether the potential to reach far more people remotely will be offset by pressures to cut tuition fees.

Some see the enforced change as an opportunity to offer remote learning and cut unnecessary travel at the same time. “We are teaching and working in different ways,” says Steve Smith, vice-chancellor at Exeter University in the UK. “It has forced us to think more quickly and rigorously about [the value of] face to face [teaching] versus online.” 

Institutions, such as Arizona State University in the US, have successfully built systems to scale up online provision to large numbers of students — in the process offering education at lower prices and more flexibly than the traditional three or four-year full-time degree.

Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, president of IE University in Spain, which has long invested in online teaching, says “it cements and enhances the sense of identity of a class, makes participants better connected and develops skills not easy to practice face to face.” But he cautions that to be done well, such formats must not be done on the cheap, and work best when “blended” with continued face-to-face teaching.

Elsewhere, Joanna Newman, president of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, points to the potential of networks like the Partnership for Enhanced and Blended Learning, to connect east African universities and institutions elsewhere to provide shared content, teaching and qualifications. “The vast majority of students who would benefit can’t afford to go anywhere,” she says. “This helps in developing counties where there is huge demand and not enough supply.” 

Theo Farrell, deputy vice-chancellor at University of Wollongong in Australia, adds: “We are seeing the most rapid transformation of service delivery of university education in history . . . and there is no going back even when the crisis is over.”

Source: Financial Times

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