Distance learning providers could be well placed to capitalise on the furore surrounding many universities plans to increase course fees to the maximum level. Established distance learning companies such as the Interactive Design Institute have remained unaffected by the scrabble to establish record levels of tuition fees across the UK’s higher education sector. “The cost of providing higher education courses need not be prohibitive” according to Michael Stewart, director at IDI, “Distance learning providers are able to deliver the same courses with the same high levels of student support but at a fraction of the cost”.
Currently, universities in Wales are desperately revising their proposals to charge student tuition fees of up to £9,000 per annum after their original applications were rejected by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. The HEFCW stated that the universities would be required to allocate a proportion of the new fee to the promotion of higher education and the encouragement of equality of opportunity.
The cost of the new scheme could result in long term financial difficulties for university level education in Wales. In England, the fees will be paid directly to the university as a government loan. The university then recoups this loan from students following graduation. However, in Wales the government are planning to cover the increase by providing a grant to fund the difference between the current course fee and the proposed higher fee. Consequently, 75% of Welsh students will be unaffected by the increase as they will be in receipt of this government grant. The cost to the Welsh Assembly will be in the region of £1.5 billion and this explains why the Welsh Assembly is anxious to ensure the maximum return on this investment.
The Welsh universities have until the end of June to submit their revised plans and a final decision from Higher Education Funding Council for Wales is expected on July 11th. Some commentators feel that the delivery of higher education requires a major overhaul. Issues of affordability, flexibility and inclusion can be tackled quickly by re-evaluating the way in which education is delivered. Face to face interaction at an attendance based university is a resource heavy, inflexible and expensive model that requires the provision of an extensive infrastructure.
The physical classroom is no longer the centre of the educational universe, fact recognised by the collaborative partnership between The University of Hertfordshire’s and the Interactive Design Institute.
Distance learning providers such as the Interactive Design Institute deliver their courses to students through an online learning environment where each student has their own studio and can communicate with their tutors and fellow students in a series of dedicated forums.
And IDI is subject to the same rigorous quality assurance procedures as any institution. “All our courses have been especially developed for online delivery”, states Stewart, “But we are still reviewed annually and our students receive the same qualification as those attending the University of Hertfordshire”.
“What we provide is choice” says Michael Stewart, “We offer our students the opportunity to choose what, when, where and how they study and their learning experience is tailored to meet their needs – online study enables us to be flexible”.
This flexibility means that online study is inclusive; “We pride ourselves in providing the opportunity for everyone to study toward gaining a university degree. If you fulfil the entry requirements, you can study with IDI” says Stewart.
“Because we don’t have to support a massive infrastructure, IDI is able to maintain its course fees at the same level as last year, fees that are already well below those charged by other universities”, says Stewart, “and students who study with us are able to apply for course and fee grants to help with funding”.