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EU: enrolment on distance courses up 15-20%

Enrolment on online courses in Europe increased 15-20% last year, the continent’s largest degree search engine, StudyPortals has estimated, suggesting interest is growing in this previously slow moving sector.

Online learning is projected to outgrow traditional education by 2015 in the USA

The website, which has just launched its EU-funded DistanceLearning portal, added that the number of universities offering distance learning also grew to 500 – up 40%.

“I’ve seen over the last three years a really growing interest in distance learning,” the CEO of StudyPortals Edwin Van Rest told The PIE News in an interview published last Friday. “That’s both in the setup of dedicated distance learning universities, or just in the institute, such as the University of Liverpool with its cooperation with Laureate.”

Van Rest said the market for distance in Europe was diverse with some wanting to study entirely online, others in a blended capacity, and with differences over timeframes of courses.

He said that while online study offered convenience, it is not much cheaper than traditional learning, suggesting price is not driving demand. However, visa restrictions in countries such as the UK could be having impact.

“We see that because of these changes in visa restrictions, especially in the UK, distance learning is becoming more of an option for students in countries where they cannot get a visa but still want to get a UK degree,” he said.

“Distance learning is becoming more of an option for students in countries where they cannot get a visa”

So far, the demand for distance has centred on the USA, which invested heavily in the sector over the last decade and where online learning is projected to outgrow traditional education by 2015, says StudyPortals. The USA also kickstarted Massive Open Online Courses run by the likes of Stanford University which are now followed by 100,000 worldwide (although a number of European universities have since launched MOOCs).

Interest in Europe was previously associated with the private sector and of “doubtful quality”, according to StudyPortals, but the increasing interest from universities may be legitimising the sector. 150 of the 180 universities already featured on DistanceLearning portal is a traditional institute.

Funding has also been allocated to support distance options learning through Erasmus For All, the European Commission’s campaign to boost EU mobility, and economics may also be playing a role.

“The margin [for distance courses] for the institute is much higher as you can imagine. Of course there is no travelling involved, allocation order, there is no accommodation involved. Most of the time students are doing this and working,” said van Rest.

The DistanceLearning portal officially launches September 27th. It lists 1,200 bachelors, masters, PhD and short courses from institutes such as the Open University and London School of Economics.

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