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Calling HE staff: is my DS about to make an expensive mistake?

(51 Posts)
IDK Fri 30-Aug-13 09:31:18

DS is off to University next month to study a Humanities subject. It is RG and well-respected, as an Institution and for his subject. He will not be using laboratories or any other expensive equipment apart from the library.

A few years from now will he be looking back and cursing himself for spending £9000pa on tuition and £3500pa on accommodation when he could have gained his knowledge for free on a MOOC. What will he gain from a bricks & mortar University that he could not gain from a cutting-edge employer combined with several MOOCs?

Pachacuti Fri 30-Aug-13 16:20:33

Out of genuine interest, alreadytaken, isn't an American university going to cost far more than the £9K plus living costs that a UK university would take?

slug Fri 30-Aug-13 16:31:42

Hmm, this is actually my area. I'm involved in the designing and running of MOOCS.

If it was me, I would strongly advise your son not to go for a MOOC. Apart from the accreditation issue, studying on MOOCS is wildly different than on traditional University courses. While the mode of delivery is similar to the Open University, in many (if not all) the content and teaching is completely different in that there is little, if any, individual guidance on the course. Many universities do the odd MOOC on the side but these are, in effect, cut down versions of the courses they run on campus with all the support and personal tutor interaction stripped out. If studying via the Open University requires a lot of dedication to stay on track, then MOOCS are a scale above this. If the course is too large then it's incredibly easy to get lost in the swarm. Frankly, I find them difficult and I take them as part of my job.

As a supplement to a traditional degree, I say fine. However, the traditional taught course format provides much more than just the classroom experience. However, if he wants a qualification that is going to be recognised by a future employer then he needs to do the degree.

Longer term, I'm not convinced MOOCS are going to replace or even match the current modes of delivery. I've worked in education long enough to have seen the rise and demise of many a qualification that was touted as being the 'next thing' that would replace or be widely accepted as an equivalent to a traditional qualification. (remember GNVQs anyone?) They have their place and are popular with providers who see them as a cheap way of getting bums on seats without having to put in too much in the way of resources. The fact is, they are actually an almighty pain in the arse to set up and run and the logistics and monitoring are scary. I suspect that in the next 10 years or so something newer and better will come along and they will fade into obscurity.

BlackMogul Fri 30-Aug-13 16:54:53

Needs Blind universities in the USA of which I think there are only 7, offer bursaries to students from abroad because they are wealthy institutions. they include Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth . DD2 was offered a place at Parsons New York. Fees $40,000 a year. Living expenses $40,000 a year. She was awarded a scholarship of $7,500 a year! Impossible to make up any of the shortfall with external funding and no loans available to UK students. Unless you are totally brilliant, and contrary to what you read in the newspapers, you just do not get given shed loads of money to study in the USA. Most DCs we know who have gone to the USA for an undergraduate degree are seriously wealthy.

creamteas Fri 30-Aug-13 18:35:57

For the student applying to a non Russell Group university to do a humanities subject it probably isn't worth it if they could get a job above minimum wage

This statement shows a huge ignorance about the university sector and value that employers hold of particular degrees.

The RG is a lobby group, not a marker of quality and many top universities have chosen not to join. Being a member of the RG group says nothing about the quality of the university nor its success in getting good careers for their graduates.

The vast majority of graduate jobs do not require a specific degree, and those with high 2:1s in English, Politics and History are often highly sought after.

callamia Fri 30-Aug-13 18:48:33

My experience of undergraduates these days, is that very few are there to 'ponce about'. Most are holding down jobs to help fund their education, and are much more focused about their future than we were ten years ago.

MOOCs are a big unknown. Doing some extra courses via MOOC is probably a nice idea, but I don't know of any employer that would consider them over and above a traditional degree. There are quite a few distance learning degree courses that aren't so different from what a future MOOC could look like - these are also usually cheaper than a regular degree course. I'm still not convinced that these are a better option than a university experience - the opportunity to grow up, become independent and take advantage of all of the things university offers - not just the subject you're studying.

2468Motorway Fri 30-Aug-13 18:58:58

MOOCs are great but the accreditation doesn't match up. I've done some and learnt a lot. However extended essays cannot be marked for free and only a small no. offer a final in genuine exam conditions (where they can check you are who you say you are).

Also they have no entry requirements. This will matter to future employers.

EduCated Fri 30-Aug-13 19:02:35

The advantage of having a degree is huge, according to these lot

Whilst you might do alright getting a job straight off after A Levels, progressing to the higher ranks later on in life is much more difficult.

2468Motorway Fri 30-Aug-13 19:13:55

I don't think St Andrew's, UEA or Leicester are Russell Group unis. Plenty of good employable grads there. Russell Group is a lobby group originally based on research income I think, a fact that makes no difference to most undergrads.

alreadytaken Fri 30-Aug-13 19:52:15

Pachacuti there are a few American universities where the cost can be less than UK universities. For the majority of American universities the cost is a lot higher unless your child has American citizenship. The reason the cost can be lower for some American universities is that bursaries are based on American incomes and they tend to be higher. You do have to do very well on their admission tests to get a place and you need a school that can write American style references (gushing).

And I was too limited in sticking to Russell Group but there are a lot of universities that employers do not rate highly and where some students might be better advised to get a job.

Research on the value of degrees has unavoidable flaws. Most students who get good A levels go on to take degrees, those who don't on average are probably less likely to succeed at work for reasons other than what they learn at university. To really work out the value of a degree you would need to match students with equal qualifications at A level. Although the research makes some attempt to allow for this by looking at those with 2 A levels plus it's still not adequate. Add to that that it doesn't cover the effect of the rapid expansion of universities in the 1990s and doesn't offset the current large costs and it's pretty seriously flawed.

SlowlorisIncognito Fri 30-Aug-13 20:16:04

Your DS is an adult now, and it seems like he's expressed a wish to go to university, so that's your answer.

I think there are advantages to a traditional university education. Some have already been outlined on this thread.

I also think that having peers to discuss course content with is really helpful when trying to understand tricky concepts or just when discussing assignments. I think you're more likely to get this kind of interaction when you're physically seeing people regularly in lectures, as well as getting more structured discussion in seminars and/or tutorials.

Blanket statements about employers views of universities are not that helpful. Plenty of employers value a "good" degree (i.e. 2.1 or above) from lower ranked universities over a poor one from better universities. Many ex-poly universities have specific (often vocational, or semi-vocational) courses which will be valued by employers. Ultimately, as you don't start paying back fees until you're earning over a certain amount, it probably doesn't make much negative difference if you go to university or not.

There are actually very few jobs these days open to A level students that are not open to students post GCSEs as well, but doing a degree (any degree) often helps you progress further up the career ladder.

EduCated Fri 30-Aug-13 22:15:58

Alreadytaken, having read the study I linked the other day, they do take into consideration expansion of HE and increases in fees. I highly doubt those figures will be borne out to quite that extent in RL for a lot of people, but I do think people underestimate the impact of not having a degree can have later on in life.

My Mum worked her way up through the ranks in the NHS, steadily rising for 14 years, then got to a point where, at the age of 52, she could not go any further without having a degree.

Fairdene Fri 30-Aug-13 22:34:46

I'm very much in favour of my DC going to a decent uni and studying a decent degree, which to my mind definitely includes Humanities. An invaluable three years and I'd far rather they did that at the conventional time than go back as mature students later. The whole loan thing seems perfectly reasonable, given the current structure for repayment. A necessary time for growing up, exploring and being relatively carefree. I'd be sad on their behalf if mine chose not to go although if they were dead against it I wouldn't (indeed couldn't) insist.

Fairdene Fri 30-Aug-13 22:41:03

It's all very well applying to needs blind US places alreadytaken but application doesn't mean acceptance and only the very, very most able will go all expenses paid to the likes of Harvard or Princeton. One of my DC waved goodbye to a very close friend going to one of those on Monday. A completely brilliant student, very singular, always has been. The competition is incredibly fierce.

Twiddlebum Fri 30-Aug-13 22:44:23

I have done both! I learnt far far more hands on in university. I found with doing online course I learnt the stuff I was reading but it didn't sink in long term. It's easier to learn, take stuff in and contemplate stuff when you are there and involved

joanofarchitrave Fri 30-Aug-13 22:53:48

Ponce about? I know it's not a popular view these days but humanities degrees are actually quite hard work, because you have to do it pretty much all yourself. I've done a humanities degree and a science degree and I know which one was harder.

Fairdene Fri 30-Aug-13 23:06:47

Lots of snobbery about science degrees.

IDK Fri 30-Aug-13 23:32:58

@ joan. I meant work hard, ponce about play hard. grin

Moominmammacat Fri 30-Aug-13 23:44:06

Fantastic day ... I don't think handing over 9% of your salary for evermore is a painless way of paying back a student loan ...

alreadytaken Sat 31-Aug-13 11:49:22

EduCated To quote from the study linked above "Unfortunately, we do not yet have sufficient data on the earnings history of young graduates who graduated in the early 1990s and beyond" This is from the discussion about whether the reduction in the graduate premium observed since the rapid expansion of the 1990s will persist or not. So recent graduates seem to have experienced less benefit but by a so far unquantified amount, despite the claims in bold type that they haven't seen a cohort effect hmm.

Economists can do a mathematical calculation on the cost of new fee structures, they can't estimate yet what impact it has on young people choosing to go to university and on employers decisions about these young people.

I could probably find more things to be concerned about in the study's methodology like treatment of income during unemployment, omission of self-employment, drop outs, valuation of benefits others than cash payments (if there is discussion on that I've missed it), length of working life, assumptions about the type of model that may or may not have been properly tested but I really can't be bothered to study it that closely.

Both it and the previous study

suggest that science degrees generally produce higher increases in earnings and there are hints that family background still matters rather a lot, more than the university you attend.

LRDPomogiMnyeSRabotoi Sat 31-Aug-13 13:18:52

This is just a small point, but maybe worth considering. This sounds like a very lonely way of getting a degree. Assuming your DS is 18/19, he's at an age when it's not unusual for people to get easily isolated, even if they're at a traditional university, because they're making the transition from being the child in a family and the pupil at school, to an adult with more responsibility. I know a lot of students have issues with mild depression or similar problems.

Studying a course that's largely devoid of personal interaction is a much bigger strain than you might expect, and I'm not sure that most 18-19 year olds would have the resources for it.

IDK Sat 31-Aug-13 13:54:38

I agree with moomin about the graduate tax. If everyone's tax was increased by 9% then there would be rioting in the streets but somehow - I don't know how! - the Government have persuaded graduates to absorb the 9% as 'normal'.shock

Fairdene Sat 31-Aug-13 14:38:22

I'd have hated science. No point doing something you dislike or aren't good at just for the possibility of a few extra quid.

78bunion Sat 31-Aug-13 14:53:02

A good degree from a good university (not from a poor university) will look better on the CV. Employers are old fashioned. They want to see the 2/1 from Bristol rather than some on line course or a knitting degree from an ex poly. Also plenty of people meet a future spouse at university and gain other valuable experience of living away from home.

There is no repayment at all if you never earn over £21k etc unless the rules change.

ontheallotment Sat 31-Aug-13 16:34:48

It's not 9% of your income for ever, it's 9% of income over 21k for 30 years. For many that makes a massive difference, but for high earners it's still rather scary. If the 21k limit moves up in line with average wage increases, then it probably is taxing the extra income that being a graduate enables quite well, but if it stays static and reduces in real terms (as seems likely) then it could become problematic.

georgettemagritte Sun 01-Sep-13 02:28:22

It would be impossible IMO to replicate a good humanities degree in a MOOC. Humanities degrees need, much more than science degrees do, the human and interpersonal interaction of traditional pedagogy. They aren't about simply absorbing information: there's a large skills component that is interwoven with the material and which needs human interaction to foster. IMO MOOCS won't ever really take off - they just don't work to deliver genuinely rigorous and high-level tertiary education. A good humanities degree teaches one to think - not something online reading and assignments can do alone.

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