As the coronavirus pandemic has caused drastic changes to the education system, professionals have said that online universities are here to stay.
With no date yet confirmed for campuses to reopen, many universities have planned for at least the first term to be moved online. Only recently the University of Cambridge moved all of its learning online for the next academic year. At the present time, all learning has had to be conducted online.
In a survey conducted by Times Higher Education (THE), 49% of students have said they are completely satisfied with the online teaching arrangements, with only 23% of students claiming they are dissatisfied.
While there has been no other choice than to move learning online, at least temporarily, many professionals have argued this should continue into the future.
Some have claimed that an online learning experience means more time and attention can be paid to areas such as better communication.
Vijay Govindarajan, a business innovation professor at Dartmouth College in the USA, said that: “Universities can create high-quality multimedia experiences online. Lectures can be recorded in HD and reused, so more of professors’ time can be spent on interacting with students.
“This will improve the overall quality of learning. Online learning might have been a long time coming in higher education, but it’s here to stay.”
Online learning might have been a long time coming in higher education, but it’s here to stay
– Professor Vijay Govindarajan
Some UK universities have already been using online learning for a number of years. The University of East Anglia (UEA) offered a blended learning experience, where some elements were held online and others in person.
UEA hoped this would reach the most disadvantaged students and encourage those who would otherwise not have attended university to apply.
Following the pandemic, many universities plan to scale up their online teaching. Investment in online learning throughout lockdown is expected to cost the higher education system approximately £1bn, and it is predicted this huge spending will encourage universities to continue virtual education.
Not all students or higher education professionals agree a permanent online change would be beneficial.
A 2018 THE survey of 200 university leaders found all unanimously agreed an online experience could never replace a physical university experience.
Meliha Hussain, a University of Warwick student, said: “I would always choose an in-person university over an online university. It’s not a valuable or effective way to learn. You need dialogue.
“As a history student, I struggled to write my essays [during the coronavirus pandemic] – my sources were limited, and my home environment isn’t good for studying. I need a library to provide good work.”
Many students appear to share this opinion. Research by Universities UK discovered that almost 60% of students and recent graduates felt the social element of the campus experience helped them broaden their life experience, become more independent and confident, and develop skills like teamwork and time management.
There have also been questions on whether tuition fees should be lowered for predominantly-online courses. In the USA, Southern New Hampshire University used online learning as an opportunity to lower its tuition fees by 61%.
Henry Sutton, designer of UEA’s online Crime Fiction MA said: “Students tell us they like the flexibility. They find the residential aspects valuable, and their communication with peers is more considered.”