Universities will come under increasing pressure to charge lower fees for online courses and units.
A conference in Melbourne has heard that the wave of free, high quality online content is likely to drive students to question the fees they pay to Australian institutions for courses they take online.
Andrew Norton, higher education director with the Grattan Institute, said universities were charging fees for delivering courses that didn’t reflect the cost involved.
“It’s only a matter of time before fees charged for online courses will be lower than fees for on-campus delivery,” Mr Norton said.
Stuart Hamilton, former chief executive of Open Universities Australia agreed.
“If we are going to charge the same online then we need to provide a learning experience that justifies the cost,” Mr Hamilton said.
Ron Oliver, pro vice-chancellor (academic) at Edith Cowan University said student feedback is “always lower for online offerings”.
“Students also say they don’t get value for money,” Professor Oliver said.
“There is going to be increasing pressure to charge less — in fact, there are already instances of people looking at how much it costs and charging accordingly.”
The conference on High speed broadband in higher education, hosted by the University of Melbourne, heard that “massive open online courses” offered an enticing proposition, but were currently not a threat to local institutions because they stripped out two critical things students wanted: academic advice and assessment.
Mr Norton also said that at least half of all university degrees were protected from any potential threat from MOOCs due to the local nature of the content.
Subjects such as physics and computer science would be the same wherever they were taught but courses such as law could only ever be delivered by domestic institutions “making it a protected market,” he said.
“MOOCs also don’t have the power to offer Australian credentials. The power to deliver credentials will always be a really valuable asset which unis can use to bundle its other assets,” he said.
“If a MOOC offered a better course but it isn’t recognised by a local employers then that also means local universities are protected.” (The Australian)