UK students join Minerva Schools’ fledgling class

US for-profit start-up institution’s peripatetic, online-delivered degree draws undergraduates keen to try something different

August 28, 2014

Source: Alamy

Global traffic: Mumbai is one of the cities in which students will live

Two members of the inaugural class at an innovative US for-profit university are UK-based students disenchanted with domestic higher education options.

The Minerva Schools at KGI, which delivers all teaching online to students who learn in seven countries over the course of four-year bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees, takes on its first cohort in September. It said that it had received some 2,500 applications for 33 available places.

Among the successful applicants is William Picard, a 20-year-old French national who has lived in Scotland for nine years and who recently completed the first year of an engineering degree at the University of Strathclyde. He dropped out to take up a place at Minerva.

He told Times Higher Education that he was attracted to the new university’s approach to teaching, in which students take part in small online seminars after learning independently, rather than through the traditional in-person lecture and seminar model. All students in the online seminars are filmed to ensure that they are participating actively.

“It is difficult for lecturers in a large lecture hall to teach at everyone’s level of ability, so I didn’t find it a very engaging experience,” he said of his time at Strathclyde.

“It is not possible to get the personal experience that I wanted when you’re teaching at that scale.”

Mr Picard said that although he felt a Strathclyde degree would have given him the skills and knowledge to be an engineer, it would not have developed his skills in other areas.

In their first year, all Minerva students will take four “cornerstone courses”, which cover subjects such as multimodal communication, problem-solving, empirical analysis and complex systems. In year two they will choose a major, and go on to undertake a “senior Capstone project” in their final year. Graduates receive a diploma awarded by Keck Graduate Institute, a regionally accredited non-profit institution based in Claremont, California.

It was Minerva’s unorthodox approach that attracted its second student from the UK, Kayla Cohen, a 19-year-old who decided against applying to traditional universities.

“I love learning, but I wasn’t planning to go to university,” she said. She chose instead to take a waitressing job.

“Halfway through my last year at school I realised university wasn’t obligatory, it was my choice. I wasn’t enjoying school, I didn’t feel there was enough debate about the way in which people learn, and I didn’t want my frustrations to continue into higher education,” she added.

By joining Minerva at the beginning, Ms Cohen said she hoped to have an impact on its development.

“It feels like Minerva is a bunch of people who are open to each other’s perspectives,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like there are barriers around its approach to learning.”

The successful applicants spend their first year in San Francisco, before studying in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mumbai, London and New York.

Tuition fees are set at $10,000 (£6,000) a year, but the initial 33-strong student cohort have had both these fees and those for their first year of accommodation waived.

Mr Picard said that although he was excited, it was tough to put his faith in an institution with “no alumni, no reputation and not even any students”. He added that he “could always go back to Strathclyde if it doesn’t work out”.

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