/ Money, Technology

Uni: would you swap in your campus for a computer?

online degrees

A lot of accredited university courses already exist online, but in the future full degrees may even be offered. So what are your thoughts on digital degrees?

At uni, I usually attended on campus, but one course was open to distance learning students as well. This meant everyone who enrolled on that course attended in the same online format. I was curious, but sceptical…

Online university degrees

As it continued, I became disillusioned. The online forums didn’t generate chat to rival a classroom discussion. It functioned as a tick-the-box requirement for students needing to jot down a sentence to gain participation points.

In the end, I felt like I didn’t learn anything more than I could’ve by just reading a book. I felt frustrated by the limited and disconnected format, like I was being charged to go through the motions.

To be fair, my course didn’t include webcam participation. Maybe I’d have felt more invested if there was more real-time digital interaction.

Digital degrees

So if uni moved away from being on campus to going solely digital, what would we lose? It’s harder to feel engaged when you don’t have to get out of your PJs or out of bed. The feeling of community from study groups at the library or a night out at the union might be lost. We might become even more antisocial stuck behind our screens.

But uni education may also become more affordable and accessible. More mature students may feel encouraged to attend without feeling like they’re out of place. People with odd work hours might find it easier fit in.

If there wasn’t a stigma attached to an online degree, would it matter how we got it? Maybe we will see a shift in university as we know it?

Would you consider taking an online degree?

I’m not interested in taking a degree (48%, 63 Votes)

Yes, I think they’re a good idea (35%, 46 Votes)

No, I’d prefer campus study (17%, 22 Votes)

Total Voters: 131

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Well your last paragraph says it all . We live in a class society no point in coming out with all those –but we are all equal lines . Oxbridge /Eton and then the rest , amazing that Prince William went to St Andrews probably his father or grandfather had a hand in that he “punted ” Charles up to Scottish schools to “toughen him up ” . Have you looked at the Cabinet makeups recently ? . But getting away from that I entirely agree Erin tried an early (1960,s ) electronics course by mail nothing like being in a class at school.

diesseltaylor says:
13 July 2016

” So if uni moved away from being on campus to going solely digital, what would we lose? It’s harder to feel engaged when you don’t have to get out of your PJs or out of bed. The feeling of community from study groups at the library or a night out at the union might be lost. We might become even more antisocial stuck behind our screens.”

I found this a mite difficult to swallow.
1. Students already exist in a community
2. Even more anti-social? Being too gregarious seems to be most students problem.
3. ” Harder to feel engaged” That is entirely within your own control. Something necessary when growing to adulthood.

It may be better for society if in fact Universities did become on-line and were used by adults who could relate to real life experience and what is being taught. Other than that they seem, in some cases, to being some expensive further education to load people with debt before they come on to the job market.


Online education is great for those who have no option, either on cost or practicality grounds, and I’m sure for accumulation information and technique they can work well. I assume however they require a good deal of self discipline to work properly.

Campus-based education does impose a discipline, although more relaxed than school, that requires you to stand on your own feet, socially, financially and in attitude to your advancement. It also gives something isolated education cannot, the direct and spontaneous interaction with other people, their views and contributions. A place for both but in my view there is no substitute for “collective” education, not least because learning to interact and mix with other people is an invaluable preparation for a working life.

I wonder how different these Convos would be if we all sat round a table to discuss issues instead of sitting behind our computers?


Many students are effectively studying part time because they are doing paid work during the semester. Their parents may not be aware of this. This has increased greatly since I was a student in the early 70s, when most did little paid work outside the vacations. The introduction of tuition fees has certainly been a driver, but the amount of time available for working with other students (arguable the raison d’être for traditional courses) has been gradually declining over the years. It’s not all bad because doing work greatly improves maturity and interpersonal skills. Even with conventional degrees, universities are making increasing use of web-based systems to support and enhance traditional learning and teaching. I am glad that I had the opportunity to attend university when many students spent a lot of time on campus and also to have had the opportunity to introduce modern methods into my teaching, without significantly decreasing the number of ‘contact hours’, and using computers certainly helped engage with most students.

In my view, the biggest mistake has been to encourage a substantial proportion of school leavers to go to university and to make them pay tuition fees, acclimatising them to living in debt from a young age. I believe that tuition fees should be funded from taxation – as in Scotland – but places awarded to those who have the necessary motivation and ability to benefit from higher education. There are various alternatives to old fashioned entrance exams.

The Open University has survived and is respected and I have no doubt that ‘digital courses’ will make a significant impact. Anyone who would like a taste of online learning can enrol on a short FutureLearn course: https://www.futurelearn.com
I have not done one yet, but have friends who find them more rewarding than sitting in front of the TV.


@diesseltaylor I agree students already exist in a community by the mere fact that they belong to the same institution. In my experience, however, an in-person community has a different feel to an online community. This isn’t negative, but just reflective of differences in how you engage online or in person. This makes me think along the lines of @malcolm-r‘s comment. I do think it would be interesting to see just how the Convo community might approach discussions differently in person versus via computers. 🙂

And yes, learning how to proactively engage with others is part of growing. I don’t think if students were to learn solely online they wouldn’t be able to function in society. But some of the best interpersonal growth I experienced at university wasn’t within the classroom, but was through internships, study groups, etc. that helped me prepare for the working world. While these experiences aren’t exclusive to campus-based universities, I felt that my university exposed me to diverse opportunities I wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.

Islington Ifrah says:
13 July 2016

It was said that education should be “open and free for all”. We’ve scrapped the latter (with students paying outrageous amounts to get them through), so it’s doubly important that we try to maintain the former. People are thinking of ‘students’ in quite black and white terms here – you’re either an 18 year old leaving college or sixth form, or a mature student in your 50s wanting to do something completely different in later life. What about the single mother or father, or the parent of a child with a disability, for instance, who wants to progress in life, who has ambition and wants to succeed (like we’re always told to do)? What about those people out there with a disability who have no alternative but to access education at home? Aren’t they all entitled to some flexibility in the way they learn? University should be flexible to suit individual needs – we are paying a LOT for it after all, and so it should work for us!

I think it’s naive and quite close-minded to think that online courses will attract the laziest in society. It might well be a way to get a degree, but marking criteria, rigorous examinations and testing, and progress reports will still be necessary. It’s hardly an easier ride. In any case, your university experience and your degree is only what you make of it. I guess if you are lazy, you’re doomed to fail either way, regardless of whether you’ve completed your degree online or on campus.


A great deal depends on what is being studied. It’s pretty tricky doing Veterinary Science online, for instance (getting a horse through the letterbox might present the odd problem) while Sociology, Mathematics, History and some others positively lend themselves to that form of study. The OU (started, let’s not forget, by the very same person who started Which?) has proved immensely successful, but has dropped its once compulsory Summer Schools, which many students found invaluable.

Online courses have many advantages: independent study, control over when information is gained, a more precise and deliberated form of tutorial than some University Lectures and the facility to hold down full-time jobs whilst studying. But there are significant disadvantages, perhaps the most telling of which is lack of peer support closely followed by lack of instant feedback.

That last is important to many students, since the younger ones (especially the extremely bright) often lack confidence in their abilities and the thrust and parry of verbal interchange during debates on Sartre, or the leap to an unexpected conclusion in Chemistry, for instance, can greatly help younger students when they’re finding their feet.

But we’re all social animals, and although we might not choose to believe so, what our peers say and do, matters. The campus experience is not for everyone, and few Universities offer it throughout the entire degree length. Nonetheless, one huge mistake made by successive Governments has been to assume they had even the remotest idea of what constitutes Education. All too often it was assumed (fuelled by the egregious DFM) that Education was merely imparting facts, and frequently useless facts. But Education is not about learning facts. It’s about so much more than that.

It’s about learning how to learn. It’s about learning to question everything you’re told. It’s about learning how to distinguish what’s relevant from what’s redundant. In short, the first degree course you take is all about learning what you should study when you go forwards. Sadly, too many, poorly advised by schools, parents, teachers and the government or terrified by the level of impending debt see the first degree as an end in itself.

We need a society where people are trained in many specialist disciplines – true, but above all we need a society full of those who understand how to learn and how to separate the welter of biased, agenda-ridden rubbish most newspapers produce from the very few high-quality pieces that stand like islands of perception and sanity in a sea of sewage. I don’t think that can ever be achieved simply through online studying. That which insulates the student from reality will also hinder their perceptual development, and that, in the long run, can only be bad for society.