University fees, the Open University and the DIY student

With the recession and impending hikes in university fees and costs it perhaps a good time to take stock and look at some other options.

Contrary to what many universities would have us believe the quality of provision on courses as reported by the students is often cited as poor. Limited contact time, overcrowded lectures and seminars, poor quality teaching and support, inconsistent feedback, marking and assessment, late and absent lecturers. Students have expressed concerns as to the justification for the existing fees. If these are to double there will be a much more detailed look at just what they are receiving for their money.

One way of reducing the costs of HE is to expand the Open University and its well rehearsed and successful distance and blended learning techniques it has pioneered over the decades. In comparison to most universities the OU is a model of flexibility, personalised guidance and support. It is rare to hear any of its students raising concerns voiced at the conventional universities. Clearly, those looking for an ‘away from home experience’ could be disappointed but perhaps with the increased flexibilities of OU courses, the reduced living costs they might be able to arrange their learning, networking and social lives in other ways.

Unless universities start to seriously examine the quality and flexibility of what they’re providing students will walk away. The cache of a university degree is already eroding as it no longer offers any certainties in the job and careers markets. The very nature of some degree offers seem startingly remote from the world we live in.

There are more efficient and effective ways of meeting personal and career goals and I believe increasingly the DIY student will emerge. He or she will be assisted by mentors and guides to be much more savvy about their needs and how to use their financial resources to best impact. They will be much more able to deal with a variety of experiences and pathways within their higher education and not just abdicate this to one university or setting. They may bring into the equation a wider range of work-based experience (paid, volunteering, internships), on and offsite programmes, distance and virtual learning. They will begin to seek collaborations and co-operative learning groups with other learners and adopt a much more proactive disposition towards their own needs. With increasing personal digital technology capacity they will be able to outstrip provsion within universities struggling to keep pace with technological advantages and tools.

There’s a new world out there – if the the costs of higher education are going to double or more then resting on the laurels and rhetoric of the current system will not secure the future of universities.  The needs of the learners have to be accomodated in flexible and personalised ways. The Open University provides a good starting point!

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