Will More Online Courses Make University Education Cheaper?

Written by Karen Bryan

GraduationFuture Learn is a new partnership between several British universities aimed at developing online higher education. The Open University, with a solid reputation for distance learning, will be a major player in the initiative. However, several other institutions such as St Andrews, Warwick and Cardiff universities will also be involved.

Initially, the project will offer free online courses that won’t have any entrance qualifications. I can’t imagine that all Future Learn courses will remain free of charge and with no entrance requirement. I believe that they will gradually develop degree level online courses for which there will be a charge and some kind of entrance requirement, maybe Future Learn course credits.

An online degree should be much cheaper than a traditional degree where you physically attend the institution. With annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 at English universities, lower tuition fees for online study would be very attractive.

Of course, tuition fees are only one constituent of the costs of getting a degree.  There are also travel and/or accommodation costs relating to your place of study, that could be avoided by online study.

I can’t see online higher education appealing greatly to young people who relish getting away from home and enjoying the social side of university.

When our sons studied in Scotland they didn’t have to pay any tuition fees.  Even without factoring in tuition fees, we would have saved a lot of money if our sons had remained in the family home and made a daily journey to and from university, as opposed to paying rent. If they’d studied online while living at home, then it would have saved the money and time for the commute. Since our sons wanted to leave home to study, they didn’t have to pay tuition fees and we’d saved up enough money for them to have this option,  we took the more expensive route of them leaving home.

It probably would’ve been a different story if we were looking at tuition fees of several thousand pounds for each of our sons for a four year honours degree in Scotland. In that scenario, if a cheaper online degree had been available, that might have been the only option we could afford for our sons.



3 Responses to “Will More Online Courses Make University Education Cheaper?”

  1. I studied applied physics and electronics at Uni. My lectures mainly consisted of a lecturer reading out his notes and occasionally answering questions. There was of course, some lab work, but in general, we were pretty much left to our own devices. I really don’t see where the value is in £9,000/year fees.
    This FutureLearn thing sounds good though.
    I’ve been looking at a few online courses to possibly enable me to earn a higher wage, and I have to say, compared with my old Uni, the teaching quality seems better as well as the courses being phenominally cheaper. I shall certainly keep an eye out for this lot when they’re ready.

  2. Matt, the £9,000 fees now charged at some unis do seem a bit excessive.

    Are you coming to the Write on Finance Blog Up next month?

  3. I suspect that with the onerous fees now being charged by universities, not only will a number of them close but people will find much cheaper ways of getting an education. MIT etc have already shown the way but some will sling their hook and go off to the Continent where inexpensive quality education in English is still available.