The Australian | 20 February 2013
The University of New England’s plan to offer free online courses and link them to paid tutorials and exams is part of a global trend that is dismantling the idea of a stand-alone university, says vice-chancellor Jim Barber.
Replacing it will be emerging offerings of course “units” and “nodes” of delivery involving cyberspace and institutional collaboration, he said.
UNE has launched its UNE Open initiative, in which students can study free courses and then take a paid exam to get cut-price credit towards a degree. Students can also choose to pay for online tutorials and student support.
Barber says the initiative is primarily aimed at international and mature-age students.
This a big move and has the potential to cause a fair bit of anxiety.
UNE academics are unconvinced that the value of their work can readily be substituted by free courses and exams. UNE law professor Eilis Magner, who recently completed her term as chairwoman of the academic board counts herself among the sceptics
University education isn’t just about the content of the course – it is about developing skills and abilities.
While Magner can see a case for students taking a few units before enrolling in a degree, she would be concerned if students were being awarded a year’s worth of study in this way.
The cheaper cost of the new proposal is likely to cause unease among UNE’s online competitors. Depending on the unit, UNE will charge about $400-$500 per unit exam. That compares with the cost of a HECS place in the accounting fundamentals unit on Open Universities Australia of $1224. UNE has yet to finalise pricing for tutorials and exams.
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