Exciting Disruptors

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Is technology replacing the need for a university campus?

Posted by Christian Bull 9 months ago

The recent announcement by the University of London that it will soon offer an undergraduate degree course taught completely online for £5,650 per year over three years has reignited the debate about whether the advancement of technology bringing remote learning is replacing the need for place-based education and living at universities’ faculties and accommodation.

When considering this it’s important to remember that the University of London’s offering, although innovative and headline grabbing, isn’t totally new: the University itself claims to be the first university in the world to have offered distance learning via correspondence courses in the 1850s. There is also the Open University which has offered online degrees since the 1960s and, more recently, the global growth of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

There are, however, certain trends – a fall in the number of domestic students applying to university (partly due to demographic challenges shrinking the pool of potential students and partly due to an increase in tuition fees in England); concerns over the high cost of university amongst those who do attend; an increase in a different type of student, perhaps older and in work; a government review of tuition fees with a focus on cheaper, quicker and more flexible ways to study for a degree and public funding pressures facing universities’ estates departments – which may all mean that the ‘traditional’ university campus with (undergraduate) students studying for a minimum of three years and living on site is under threat.

Although this new type of technology-based learning is changing the way of obtaining a degree, the university estate clearly still has a role – and with capital expenditure by universities in their land and buildings topping £3billion - institutions clearly think so too.

Universities’ estates will continue to play a crucial role in attracting the best staff, students and partners by being a key factor as to why these stakeholders choose one institution over another. Such facilities are then a major part of the ‘student experience’ and of research programmes once learners arrive at university. The role of technology in higher education is therefore one of evolution rather than revolution. The growth of full online degrees and other ways of teaching and learning remotely will increase. This is clearly a disruptor by providing the opportunity to do things differently – particularly appealing to non-traditional learners like mature students and those in work. But to say it marks the beginning of the end of the university estate and place-based higher education is an exaggeration.

This post was edited on Mar 14, 2018 by Karolina Labrenz

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