University of London offers first online BSc degree

Education doesn’t come cheap. Even countries with free tuition fees, such as Germany and Sweden, carry the can in a tax burden, but the UK is having a particularly hard time deciding who should pay, and how much. Largely taxpayer-funded until 1998, over the space of 14 years the fees jumped from £1,000 per year to £9,000 – except in Scotland, where education is free to most under-25s, and Northern Ireland where fees are capped at £4,030.

But in England and Wales, the government is spooked. An unexpectedly strong Labour performance in the 2017 snap election featured a manifesto promise of free university education, and so the government is revisiting the issue of higher-education funding. The Conservative Party won’t match Labour’s free tuition pledge, and the treasury is said to be deeply hostile to any fee cuts in what is already a pretty shaky economy, so what does that leave?

One model is the online degree. Online courses are nothing new – not just at the Open University, but with the likes of Udacity, Udemy and Coursera offering paid tuition in a diverse range of subjects. It’s the latter of these that is teaming up with the University of London to offer its first fully fledged undergraduate science degree. And it undercuts the vast majority of courses taught in England and Wales, coming in at £5,650 per year, or £16,950 over the duration of a three-year course.university_of_london_offers_first_online_bsc_degree

The computer science BSc will be devised and taught by academics at Goldsmiths, University of London, and will start next year. According to Craig O’Callaghan, the university’s deputy chief executive, it’s aimed squarely at “people who are working and need a more flexible approach”. Just like a regular degree, the course will involve group work and individual tuition – it’s just that this will be delivered remotely via computer. The only time you will need to visit campus is to take an invigilated exam at the end of the course.

Starting with a few hundred students, but eventually scaling to 3,000, the online computer science course is significantly larger than most. This should allow the costings to work, according to Jeff Maggioncalda, chief executive of Coursera, who told the BBC that this “totally changes the equation” of how universities fund their courses. “It’s so compelling that other universities will have to follow,” he said.

Whether the lecturers teaching the course to far more students will agree or not, we’ll just have to see when the course opens its doors next year.

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