Online universities are shaking up higher education by offering equal and unfettered access to courses for students across the globe.
The traditional university system is limited by geographical boundaries and tends to exclude disadvantaged groups; as physical institutions often charge large fees, students who cannot afford tuition and accommodation fees, those who do not live near a university or have difficult life circumstances find themselves held back.
If graduates are earning approximately US$21,000 more than non-graduates per year in the US and estimates suggest only seven out of every 100 people would have college degrees, it is perhaps reasonable to assume the traditional system of university is failing the remaining 93 percent of the world’s population.
Among the 93 percent will likely be those suffering from complicated circumstances, whether financial difficulties or other issues like learning disabilities.
But online learning is changing the status quo, lowering or removing the hurdles disadvantaged students face in attending university.
Global internet penetration is now an estimated 51 percent, meaning more than half the world has access to online learning. As this increases over time, so too will access to education opportunities for those living in the world’s most rural interiors.
“The internet enables us to spread knowledge everywhere. Up until a few years ago the internet was not where it is today—if you were in a remote area you couldn’t get the knowledge,” Shai Reshef, the President of University of the People, a tuition-free, non-profit, US accredited online university, told Study International.
“We have students today who are the first in their villages to have ever been able to access higher education. This is a great thing.”
"Online education and improved access to resources are changing the learning landscape." Noah Adelstein, junior at Washington University in St. Louis. https://t.co/vNCsT4FbO9 pic.twitter.com/2fzQ8OoH2T
— EdSurge HigherEd (@HigherEdSurge) January 17, 2018
Online education is giving underprivileged students an education that would otherwise be out of bounds through remote access to learning materials and flexible course structures.
This was the case for Faye Williams, who was put into care when she was only a year old before suffering years of abuse and illness.
After having three children, working full-time and coping with her disabilities, she heard about The Open University, an online academic platform and the largest education provider for those with disabilities. According to Professor Hazel Rymer, the school’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching Innovation, there are over 23,500 individuals from the UK with disabilities studying enrolled in the university.
“I am so much more confident now. I never believed I could achieve a qualification let alone a degree. Growing up in care I was constantly told I would not amount to anything and nobody gave me time to develop,” Williams told Study International.
“The Open University has never judged me – I worked at my own my pace and the support I was given throughout gave me the ability to succeed. I cannot thank The Open University enough for making me achieve what, in my eyes, was unachievable.”
Williams now has a degree in Social Sciences and has received a promotion at work with the skills she has gained.
Online education has succeeded in eliminating barriers and borders, giving everyone the opportunity to have access to education anytime, anywhere, asys ITM university in India https://t.co/wbg3fnBsa3
— Dr.Fred DiUlus (@BestWorstOnline) January 4, 2018
For Adil Abdelmagid, a refugee from Sudan who lost his home in 2003 due to warfare, online education does not only mean access to learning new things – it is also a foot in the door to a future with real career prospects.
“I don’t know what I would do without University of the People. It’s what gives me hope,” said Abdelmagid, speaking to Study International.
“Through higher education, I can acquire the skills, training, and knowledge necessary to engage in the field of work.
“It also helps me in broader practical benefits such as civic participation. Through education, I can boost personal development in all skills and improve communication more effectively with others.”