DCU to boost off-campus students with digital plan

Online learners ‘not recognised’ by current third-level funding model

Only about 16 per cent of students in Ireland are part-time, according to Professor Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning. Photograph: AbsolutVision

Only about 16 per cent of students in Ireland are part-time, according to Professor Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning. Photograph: AbsolutVision

Thu, Aug 7, 2014, 18:20

DCU has unveiled a new plan for digital learning as the university seeks to expand its off-campus student population.

However, it says, growth in the area is being hindered by the current funding model for higher education which offers no subsidy to flexible learners.

“The current funding model does not sufficiently - or, you could say, at all - recognise those students who are learning off-campus,” said Professor Mark Brown, director of the National Institute for Digital Learning which is based at DCU.

“In New Zealand about 45 per cent of students at third level are part-time. In Ireland, it’s 16 per cent.”

Employers could not afford to lose people to full-time education yet there was a need for constant upskilling in the workplace, he said. Employees studying part-time were already paying tax, and “it’s a redundant argument to say they have to be on-campus to get a proper education” and thus financial support.

“The long term prosperity of Ireland depends on investing in a much more flexible higher education system.”

Prof Brown added that he hoped the expert group set up by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn to examine the funding model for higher education would “grapple with the issue”.

He was speaking as DCU announced details of a new investment in digital learning, including offering more online degree programmes, new flexible short courses and deepening partnerships with overseas institutions, including Arizona State University.

The initiative is being branded under the name DCU Connected, with a website www.dcu.ie/connected going live next Monday, to act as an information hub. The university is also rolling out what it calls a “rich media digital platform” for students and academic staff aimed at encouraging greater online collaboration.

Called Loop, the system would reflect the “learning experience of students in the 21st century”, said Prof Brown. “Digital learning is now the normal.”

DCU was also “exploring options” around MOOCs (massive open online courses), although Prof Brown said it might not introduce an identical model.

DCU president Professor Brian MacCraith stressed that the announcement was “much more than a brand launch. Rather it is a public commitment by DCU to embrace the best of digital technologies to enhance the learning experience of students, both nationally and globally.

“Whether you live in Sligo, Seville or Shanghai, DCU Connected provides access to world-class online education,” he said.