As the global pandemic spurred innovation and an acceptance of blended and digital models, educators and sector leadership must harness online education as another mode to engage students, speakers suggested at a PIE Webinar.

Oxford International Education Group – which revealed its OI Digital Institute in December – is collaborating with Coventry University as a digital pathway at three locations in China.

“We are not talking about about replacing that student mobility”

“We took a combination of the online product and face to face learning, and we launched that a month ago, 60% of it is the digital product and 40% is face to face,” said Lil Bremermann-Richard CEO of OIEG. “So far the student experience has been very good.”

As a result of “understanding that students also enjoy all of that face to face interaction”, the blended offer does not have significantly lower delivering costs as it must ensure a high quality program and outcomes and student experience expectations are met.

“We are not talking about about replacing that student mobility, it’s about facilitating it, potentially giving students the taste of what UK, Canadian, Australian education is online, and then enabling that mobility, in potentially an easier way. That exposure to overseas studying is irreplaceable.”

Similarly, MSM’s Pathway Program was launched in response to higher education providers searching TNE options in 2020, the company’s vice president for the UK Andrew Disbury noted.

“We’ve invited a number of institutions to become founding partners in the pathway programs, and they’re from the six destination territories of America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Europe,” he said.

While North American partners may have less TNE experience, the UK’s mature TNE market meant providers were asking about who could study where, what and in which mode in March and April of 2020, Disbury highlighted.

The UUKi’s TNE project officer Griff Ryan said that the “temperature is rising” in terms attitudes towards online provision.

“Previously there’s been difficulties in some of the largest TNE markets when it comes to online degree recognition,” he said, as UK NARIC outlined in a document recently.

But recognition has been “positive” in China, where authorities made temporary recognition concessions for online, in addition to other countries including India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia.

“The recognition processes for online TNE are being more formalised and therefore more manageable and and more accessible for UK providers to understand and to work through,” Ryan noted. “I think we’re coming to a good moment with this.

As skill level and sectoral understanding rises, there is a “real opportunity for sector leadership to reflect and say, ‘OK, now that we have accidentally developed this new capacity… how can we actually now innovate from that?

“‘How can we capitalise on that? And how can we make it so that the experience for students is improved?’,” Ryan added.

International students will want to come to the UK when conditions permit, he predicted, but online adds another option for students, panellists agreed.

“Universities need to understand that the future is going to be this multiplicity of offers. It’s not going to be between face to face and online,” said David Pilsbury, deputy vice-chancellor (International Development) at Coventry University.

“It’s going to be all sorts of variants. And it will be variants moving between countries.”

The sector could collaborate on building the infrastructure need to deliver in a variety of modes, Pilsbury suggested.

“The problem for us, of course, is that that can be quite expensive to deliver in multiple forms,” he said.

“What I hope we won’t do is just pile into online because people still think it’s cheap and scalable. Actually, we’ve got to be education led and student centred,” Pilsbury noted.

The partnership with OIEG in China has begun with three locations, but the intention “is to roll that out and to move into South-East Asia”.

“It’s really exciting how quickly it’s gone. And people talk about the move to online as part of Covid. My big concern is that will revert to business as usual,” he said.

“This whole crisis has been an opportunity to really take a very different approach to what we do in the future”

“What I want to see is ways in which we continue to capture that sense of what we can do as a sector when the fantastic, gifted people within it look at what’s possible and get on and continue to drive these innovations.”

“This whole crisis has been an opportunity to really take a very different approach to what we do in the future,” MSM’s Disbury agreed.

“I’ve long had a vision of students moving around centres and hopping on and offline as they go, depending on their personal circumstances, financial circumstances, but picking up credits each semester that lead towards qualification,” he said.

“I think with this these new ventures, it’s very exciting.”

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