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article imageOp-Ed: Is there an alternative to raising student fees?

By Alexander Baron     Jun 28, 2011 in World
As government cuts threaten the future of higher education, a simple solution is to move to online-based learning wherever possible.
One of the big issues in this age of manufactured austerity is the increase of student tuition fees; one report today suggests that universities may be forced to merge in order to survive. For those who are successful in obtaining a place there is the little issue of student debt, which could soar for higher earning graduates. Leaving aside the deficit and the government’s proposed cuts, there is a much cheaper alternative for students, one that has been staring us in the face since before the beginning of the Millennium.
In 1969, The Open University was founded by Royal Charter; in a pre-Internet age, this august institution enrolled hundreds of thousands of undergraduates from all backgrounds, many of them having no meaningful formal academic qualifications.
Although the OU has a campus – at Milton Keynes – its focus has always been on distance learning. Students study largely at home, although there are also formal classes. From the start, The Open University also broadcasted programmes on both television and radio, and today it has its own YouTube Channel.
All this begs the question, to what extent does the average student need to physically attend a university in order to obtain a university quality education, and to graduate with a recognised degree?
There are it is true some courses which require actual physical attendance. While we can all learn the rudiments of first aid from watching a video or even from reading a manual, the training of doctors requires many long hours in an actual classroom; there is no substitute for cutting up cadavers, and on-the-job training such as is undertaken in our great teaching hospitals.
Chemistry and other disciplines require actual experiments, but for students studying English literature, law, mathematics, philosophy, and even such subjects as music theory, the great bulk of studying can be done on-line, or at home using computer assisted learning. There are now all manner of both formal and informal lectures available on-line, and more are being added all the time. Many of these lectures and lessons are written in stone, and do not need to be continually re-recorded or taught again and again by different teachers/tutors/lecturers at different times and in different places. How many ways are there to teach the Theorem of Pythagoras or the chronology of the Gunpowder Plot?
The judicious use of on-line teaching material could be used not only to reduce the actual attendance time needed at a university but to drastically reduce costs and overheads, including lecturers’ fees, though while such measures may be welcomed by government departments, it remains to be seen if they will be quite so popular with university staff, lecturers in particular.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Education, Cuts, Students, The Open University, Degrees
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