Off-campus intake creates degrees of seperation

Higher education is changing, with offsite student numbers soaring. But is the UK doing enough to keep British education top of the heap?

As the emphasis within higher education shifts from knowledge to skills, the distinction between online and face-to-face gets fuzzy, says Professor John Fothergill, deputy vice-chancellor of Leicester University. Globalised communications once meant email; now all students share virtual learning environments (VLEs), library facilities and a standardised process of assessment and accreditation. UK universities increasingly attract foreign fee-paying students, enhancing their international stature.

Sir Ron Cooke’s government report last year for the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS), On-line Innovation in Higher Education [2008], called for “revitalised investment into e-infrastructures” in higher education. Yet, as Terence Karran of the University of Lincoln points out, the UK is now the only major country in Europe without some kind of national e-learning or virtual university project (after the UK e-University collapsed in 2004).

Leicester has just started running a master’s degree in global citizenship. Students from seven linked universities around the world collaborate online, studying at any linked campus where they can mix and match modules from other equivalent degrees, like peace studies. They meet rarely — once last year, at Hiroshima on Hiroshima Day.

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