Online learning disputes ‘value proposition’ of higher education

Record numbers of students attending university this year will be paying higher fees for public universities. The fee, £9,250 annually, is higher than any other developed country. 

This excludes prestigious private universities, such as in the US, but has called into question the ‘value proposition’ of online lessons. An international Education report by the OECD has suggested such tuition fees will not be sustainable with continued online teaching.

Students attend university for the quality of teaching which can only be obtained in-person. This is aided by having more peer support, more visual stimulants, academic settings, and the chance to engage with professors to develop social skills which can be valuable for work settings.

OECD education expert Andreas Schleicher suggested if too much of university life remained online then this would fundamentally challenge the “value proposition” of tuition fees.

England’s previous education secretary, Gavin Williamson, warned universities to resume face-to-face tuition this term where possible.

Universities UK have added the “vast majority” of teaching and socialising will be in person, however, large lectures might remain online for “public health reasons”.

Gavin Williamson’s successor, Nadhim Zahawi, will face the decision as to whether or not they should go ahead with the tuition fee cut, recommended by a government-commissioned review calling for fees of £7,500. This comes despite the government’s freeze on tuition fees at £9,250 at the beginning of the year.

However, a spokesperson for Universities UK defended the set price of tuition fees: “The structure of the system in England means that no student pays fees up front, and repayments are made based on a graduate’s ability to pay over their working life.”

Some students have also reported online studies are more suited to their needs. For example, disabled students have found the option to learn virtually increases accessibility to lectures and seminars. Learning online may also provide flexibility to students who work or need to travel to their families, either across the UK or internationally.

While the outlook for online learning remains uncertain, a potential compromise on the price of tuition fees provides students with a positive outlook as the quality of their experience is being assessed alongside the financial burden of higher education.

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Una Jones

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November 2021
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