The challenges of the global tuition market
"In the UK, it is universities that were created from the polytechnics in the early 1990s that lead in developing collaborative links with overseas institutions," Paul Bennell wrote recently about the internationalisation of higher education.
"Excluding the Open University and the University of London external degree courses, these new universities accounted for 65 per cent of all overseas validated course enrolments. In marked contrast, many of the older universities had no overseas validated courses in the 1997 survey."
How does a college that makes access for local people its mission compete globally? "I don't think the two kinds of activity are incompatible," said Mike Goldstein, vice-chancellor of Coventry University. "We work locally and in South Africa, and there is some synergy between the two in learning styles and teaching methods."
The new universities are also taking the lead in providing online courses in collaboration with international partners. Westminster University has just launched an online MBA course with the Design Management Institute in Boston. "We work with partner institutions that provide tutor support and access to libraries while Westminster provides course material and validation," said Geoffrey Copland, vice-chancellor of Westminster University.
Further education colleges also provide online courses. Graham Morris, principal and chief executive of Stroud College, said: "It is not an issue for higher education only - it is an issue for skills development and learning at all levels." Stroud began online courses just 12 months ago and now has 1,500 students enrolled. It expects to have 5,000 by the end of this academic year and hopes that the University for Industry will eventually accredit the online courses.
"There are barriers to attracting people on to the courses," Mr Morris added. "In seeking to widen participation, we can exclude people who do not have the technology or are afraid of the technology. There is a huge requirement for staff development: learning is student-centred and very flexible, and tutors need to let go of being information providers and become support providers. But I believe that distance learning is the future for institutes such as Stroud."
* The Internationalisation of Higher Education: Exporting Education to Developing and Transitional Economies, by Paul Bennell with Terry Pearce, September 1998, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.