China's ministry of education allowed 25 more major universities to carry out online education or education via the internet trials in the past year.
That brings to 31 the number of Chinese universities offering degree and diploma programmes over the internet. The number of students enrolled on internet-based courses is in the tens of thousands. The list of universities includes Beijing, Fudan, Shanghai Jiaotong, Beijing Normal University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Tsinghua, Tongji and the People's University of China.
The most important benefit is that higher education can reach many more people than before, particularly those in outlying regions, at a fraction of the cost. Other benefits include flexibility, choice and, after allowing for initial investment, the savings in teacher salaries, buildings, labs and equipment.
On the downside, it is clear from reports that students on conventional programmes are getting almost the same educational input via computers, big screens and electronic keyboards or writing pads, giving rise to the danger that online education may be used to replace costly conventional teaching on all or most provision.
One Beijing university official admitted less students would now experience the benefits of face-to-face teaching.
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