Distance learning – Is it an alternative to going to uni?

Distance Learning

Have you ever thought about distance learning?

The rise in the cost of tuition fees at UK universities have led many students to consider applying to a university relatively near to home. The course fees are the same but you can save money because you don’t need rented student accommodation. You are eligible for a lower maintenance loan and you will have travel costs but you may find this the best choice for you. So how about taking it one step further and doing a university course by distance learning?


Is distance learning available in the UK?

The Open University in the UK leads this area; while other universities are starting to offer distance learning, their choice of course is still relatively limited. Most universities that do have distance education packages (apart from the OU) concentrate on short courses that form part of degrees or that top-up qualifications already gained by conventional study.


What does the Open University offer?

Distance Learning Degrees

The Open University has been established for almost 45 years and is the largest provider of distance degree courses in the UK. The degrees tend to be completed by more mature students; the average age of a current OU undergraduate is 31. However, there is an upward trend for younger people signing up and 27% of new students starting in 2012/2013 are under 25. In total, the OU provides distance learning to a quarter of a million students and it has the widest choice of subjects that can be studied from home with tutor support.


Distance learning at conventional universities

One of the most well-developed distance learning programs is offered by the University of London, within its International Programmes. A range of online courses are possible, from foundation and undergraduate courses to diplomas for graduates and post-graduate degrees. These are offered to students anywhere in the world but 5000 students from the UK are currently doing their degree from the University of London by remote study using online access.

Oxford University offers a small number of courses within its Department for Continuing Education, with an Advanced Diploma in Data and Systems Analysis or Local History currently available at undergraduate level. These courses are one-year’s full time study and are at third year level, so aimed at people who want to ‘top-up’ their qualifications.

Other institutions offer the occasional course through web based learning. These are too numerous to list but a few examples include:

Is distance learning a less costly way to get a degree?

Distance Learning CoursesThe simple answer is yes, a distance learning degree will leave you with a much smaller student debt.

The tuition costs of doing a degree by online tuition and local support with the OU is less expensive if you do your study full-time – at £5,000 per year (for 120 credits of study). This compares with around £9,000 per year if you go to any university in England. You don’t have to live away from home and nor do you have to travel to study most of the time – so you will also save a lot of money that way. You can also get a tuition fee loan that you pay back based on your income once your degree is finished that works on very similar principles to other tuition fee loans.

Online study at the University of London costs just over £11,000 for an entire undergraduate degree – so much less expensive than conventional, on-campus study, which averages £27,000.


What are the disadvantages of distance learning?

ICAEW_MPUThe main disadvantage for young students is that you miss out on the full experience of being at university. Even students who attend uni but live at home get the interaction of lectures, tutorials, practicals, seminars and some social life. If you work purely online, you do get the support of your university and your tutors, but you have little social contact with your fellow students.

Motivation can be a big problem for students working from home and doing modules online – it takes a huge amount of discipline to stay on track with your studies. Mature students with work experience or who combine work with part-time study may cope better than students attempting to get their degree full-time and straight from college.


Who would benefit from distance learning?

At the moment, with so few universities offering a comprehensive package of online courses, younger students will still opt for campus-based study. As availability rises, it may become a more realistic option for students who want to keep their student debt to a minimum and who are happy living at home and studying independently.

Students with special circumstances such as family responsibilities and commitments, or disabled students may find that remote learning opportunities allows them to consider a degree even though going to uni would not be for them.

It is also worth considering if you have finished your degree and want to get additional qualifications, either to give yourself a better chance of getting a job, or to get a better job or promotion. 

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