Europe has a long tradition of distance study programmes for local and international students. The UK and especially London have a wide range of different universities with dedicated online departments. One of the most famous and renowned universities of the UK and globally is the London School of Economics (LSE). If you're on Twitter, you've probably noticed their ads. They're quite active advertising their distance study B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science) and other majors.
While the university itself is hugely successful, their VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) isn't. But let's start at the beginning:
The UK offers 100% distance study degrees. This is a huge benefit for anybody who want's to get a good degree from a reputable English-speaking country while living in their home country.
By UK law, all distance study students anywhere in the world are equal to local students. That's why you get a digital student ID card. You theoretically could use the ID card to enter the university libraries in London. In addition, the degree you get from a UK based university via distance study must be equal to any other degree in the UK, again by UK law.
Universities in the UK are government funded with additional help through study fees. But here's the catch: If you want to study locally, the study fees would go into the tens of thousands per academic year. The distance study programmes only cost a fraction of this money.
In general, UK based distance study degrees are not cheap, but vastly cheaper than any other comparable degree programme.
In most cases you will need two things:
- High School Diploma with grades (certified copy via an embassy)
- For non US/UK citizens English Level Certificate (certified language level test like Toefl)
For math related degrees, there are additional country specific requirements for your math GPA in your high school diploma.
One of the biggest weaknesses of UK based distance study programmes is the study mode. There are courses with an 3-hour assessment and course material which consists of one 200 page long study guide and one 900 page essential book to read, that's it. There is zero support from a professor or any other teaching staff. Often you can only ask questions in a small forum, where postdocs or even grad students are responsible.
Most likely you will never talk to any professor within your time as a student.
Because UK based universities chose the route of scaling up their distance study programmes, the structure is focused on scale.
- The academic year has only 1 assessment period (compared to 2 for local students)
- You will have 4 assessments every May-June for 3 years
- You will get a degree if you pass 12 assessments
- There isn't a Bachelor Thesis
- There isn't any form of discussion or group work
- There is not a single online "homework" or other online assignments
- Only the 3-hour assessments count towards your degree
What you don't get
Before I started a distance study Bachelor, I already graduated from another university with a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) as a local student.
Quite frankly, I don't understand why UK based universities don't offer courses to their distance study students for academic writing, citation, research etc. These are mandatory for local students. After you graduated from let's say the LSE, you will have no idea what a citation is. You will have no idea how to write a research paper or properly articulate a theory in an abstract.
Nobody tells you, nobody cares. It's one of the greatest weaknesses of theses types of degree programmes, they don't do the "online learning" part properly. They have too many students to care about the quality of their seminars. And because of that, their only mechanism to control quality is through the difficulty of their assessment.
It's not unusual for students to fail the first 4 assessments. Each assessment will cost you around £ 300-400, which is wasted money if you fail.
The US higher education sector is a huge industry with hundreds of universities across the country. There is no such thing as a fully online university in the states.
Finding good and valuable degree programmes can be a real struggle. As mentioned before, the distance study sector in the US is focused on certificates. In addition, the US has many different types of universities, e.g. community colleges or private for-profit organizations. Often, these small universities carry less than 5,000 - 10,000 students.
Certificates in general are not standardized and can have names like:
- Supervisor of Instruction Certification
- Superintendent Certification
- Graduate Certificate in Managing Information Technology
- Social Media Academic Credit Certificate of Achievement
- Director of Pupil Personnel Certification
- Online Certificate in Business Management
These certificates most likely won’t have any meaningful impact on your career outlook, if they are not connected with a valuable Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. The length of these certificate courses can range from a few weeks to 1 – 2 years of constant tasks, while costing anywhere between a few hundred to tens of thousands of Dollars.
So what’s the point of getting certificates?
The US is the prime market for any degrees and certificates abroad. Having a US degree can have significant advantages in middle and small countries across the globe. To ease access and limit the difficulty while still getting huge numbers of foreign students with deep pockets, certificates are the perfect method for western universities to raise their revenues.
Please don’t get blinded by their advertisements and promotional speeches.
Ask yourself the question what benefit you will get, paying thousands of Dollars for something that says “Social Media Academic Credit Certificate of Achievement” on a piece of paper.
Real online degrees in the US
Online degree programmes in the US are very often linked to extensive requirements, which disqualify people who’ve never been to the US. As an example, here the requirements from the University of Illinois for their Online Bachelor’s Program in Earth, Society & Environmental Sustainability:
"The university of Illinois requires 60 hours of prior coursework at the University itself."
These students are called transfer students. All students with no prior learning experiences or who are not locally in the US are excluded. Compared to other countries, it’s a vastly different approach to online degrees.
Here an example from the Ohio State and their Health Sciences Online Program:
"Some mandatory courses may not be available online" while there is a residency requirement for the Ohio State.
If you plan on getting a US degree, you should plan on study locally with a student visa and residence status in the US.
Canada has a dedicated online university, the Athabasca University. The university was founded in 1970 and provides a broad range of online courses and degree programmes to students around the globe. The idea of the university is providing easy access to higher education for anybody in Canada. That's why the admission requirements for Canadians for some degrees only state that you must be 16 years of age or older.
For international students, the ApplyAlberta system will handle your admission.
US, Canadian and Australian online degree programmes can get very very pricy. Even though Canadian degrees are cheaper than US ones, the up-pricing for international students is beyond my comprehension. The degrees can cost you anything from $50,000 to $80,000 for 3-4 years of study, which equals to more than $2,000 per month.
Just like the UK, Athabasca University offers 100% online degrees. To provide assessments, the university uses a service called ProctorU. Via software on your computer, a webcam and microphone assessments can be conducted worldwide.
Available undergraduate and graduate programmes range from Business Administration, Counselling, Health Studies etc.
Difference to the UK
The big difference to the UK is the structure of Athabasca as an 100% online university. In comparison to "normal" universities, which offer online degrees, Athabasca doesn't have a campus as such and courses are not held in person. There is no dedicated research going on, the university in general is more like a learning center which offers degrees and education at university level.
Germany, as an example, has a similar approach to online degrees. The Fernuniversität Hagen is a dedicated online university in Germany, the degrees count as normal university degrees. However, their degrees are seen as of lower quality than degrees from normal universities.
The fact still remains that Athabasca offers Canadian university degrees, which can be completed 100% online. If you want a degree from North America, this can be your point of entry.
Australia has no dedicated online university like Canada or a broad range of online degrees like the UK. There are only a few universities which offer 100% online degrees. Universities with a dedicated online degree programme are the Griffith University, University of South Australia, RMIT University and Curtin University.
Just like the US, Australia offers more online Master's degrees than Bachelor's and often tries to sell you certificates and "degree programs". These programmes can have names like "Associate Degree of Applied Cloud Technology" or "Graduate Diploma in Psychology" but indeed are not Bachelor's or Master's degrees.
Most programmes are related to business, accounting or finance and can have a huge price tag on them. The online Bachelor of Business from the Griffith University will cost you $43,500, equals around $1,200 a month for 3 years.
These price tags single out most students from other countries and can be a huge entry barrier for international students to get an Australian degree.
Australia uses a system called OUA (Open Universities Australia). All online degrees and programmes are collected through this website. The assessments are conducted online without any further audit or supervision. SafeAssign and Turnitin are two solutions for online assessments, where students just upload their tests on the university's VLE.
In addition to the price tag, there are further entry requirements like a special Admission Rank Score. Your high school diploma and other documents gets evaluated and scored. One point of entry often can be single undergraduate units. You first study a few units as an independent learner and then enroll in the degree programme itself.
In general, Australian online degrees are quite expensive and have a high entry barrier. They are focused on certain subjects and don't offer the same field of study range like the UK. On the other hand, you will be enrolled with a "normal" Australian university and get a decent degree from an English speaking country.