The number of people accessing online postgraduate programmes is booming, figures from Europe’s largest provider of such degrees suggest.
Data from the University of Liverpool show that annual enrolment across the 23 programmes it runs more than quadrupled between 2007-08 and 2012-13. Among women the increase has been even more pronounced (more than five times higher).
Alan Southern, Liverpool’s director of e-learning, said growth was apparent across all programmes.
The typical student is in full-time work and sitting the courses part-time, the data show. The average age of the cohort is 38 and about 90 per cent of the students hail from outside the UK, Dr Southern added.
“While in recent years postgraduate recruitment for on-campus programmes has tended to rely on Chinese and Indian students…the demographic for online programmes is much more diverse,” he said.
Liverpool, which runs its courses through Laureate Online Education, part of the US for-profit group Laureate Education, has 10,500 students in the programmes, making it Europe’s largest provider of online-only postgraduate degrees.
Although the numbers of women accessing the courses are growing, they still make up only a third of the cohort. While women in developed countries seem to be taking them to boost their skills during the economic downturn, those in developing countries are using the courses to break into male-dominated sectors, such as fuel and project management, said Dr Southern.
Courses cost between £10,500 for a master’s programme and up to £39,000 or so for a doctorate in business administration. Dr Southern called them “affordable”, although they do not compare favourably with massive open online courses, which are free. Addressing this point, Dr Southern said that the education provided by Moocs was of a very different order.
“Moocs are ‘mass’ and about doing routine tasks and with less discussion…The real difference is the level of support we provide our online students,” he added.