How Online Courses Are Pushing the Price of Traditional Degrees Down

As the economic crisis continues to bite, many universities are trying to push fees up for undergraduates. The BBC recently (17th March) reported that over half of UK university heads want students to pay a minimum of £5,000 pounds a year, or to have no upper limit on fees at all. However, as enrollment numbers take a downturn for the first time in years, and institutions begin to offer more distance options – could online degrees begin to highlight that traditional courses are overpriced?

As the quality, and breadth of choice, of online courses increase – it seems that costs to enroll are typically far cheaper than the proposed £15,000 by those in charge of universities, at about £2,500 for an entire degree. But also, it must be remembered that distance degrees are in competition with others on a global scale – and so in many areas are said to be going down in price. Particularly as countries such as India begin to jump on the distance learning bandwagon, and open content becomes ever popular.

However, the distance and online learning sector might be set to affect UK university fees more directly. Resource Development International have recently issued a press release that comments on the proposals for universities to push for higher fees. Philip Hallam states: “The call for a rise in tuition fees doesn’t really reflect any necessary increase in the delivery costs of quality education…many universities are investing in, for example, new buildings which are typically 50% utilized, and not allocating sufficient funds towards improving their use of efficient and effective learning technologies.”

Fees are frequently discussed year upon year, and the controversy of increasing them is usually concerning the debts that students incur. The BBC reports that, among others, the National Union of Students are angered, and want ‘to entirely replace the fee system with repayments linked to later earnings.’

However, the comments of the RDI, the economic climate, and the downturn in enrollment numbers (despite it being minimal, I acknowledge) have caused me to focus on the question as to whether such a move may be a step toward deterring larger numbers of students from considering a traditional university degree? In the future, we may well find that more students are forced to take their degree online – which is no bad thing in my opinion.