The University of New England has announced that it will not charge on-line students a Student Services and Amenities Fee from 2014. As an on-line student myself at another Australian university I found it annoying that I was paying a fee for on-campus services which I could not use. However, I don't think that such fees should be scrapped altogether, instead the university should invest in services of benefit to on-line students and charge an appropriate fee, perhaps half that for on-campus students.
Professor Jim Barber, UNE Vice-Chancellor has proposed government
change regulations to allow universities to unbundle services. He argues that on-line students are currently paying for services they don't use. However, it is not clear to me why UNE what regulations are stopping UNE further unbundle its services.
According to a media report Professor Barber wants to charge students an extra fee for optional tutorials. It is not clear from the article, but I assume this is referring to face-to-face tutorials and the Professor is still proposing to provide the on-line students with an equivalent to the tutorial on-line, for no extra charge. My experience has been that if you provide a good quality on-line course, then students don't want a face-to-face tutorial. There will be a small number of students (perhaps 10% to 20%) who need extra help, but the cost of that might be better built into the course fees.
Professor Barber also claimed that on-line students were paying for the cost of lecture halls and this was built into the government endorsed quality standards. But there is plenty of research to show that on-line education produces results at least as good as face-to-face. It seems unlikely to me that if UNE presents evidence of the quality of their education they cannot be penalized for not investing in classroom which are not needed.
Recently I enrolled in a North American on-line university. The fees are a few hundred dollars less per subject, than for the Australian equivalent. However, I selected the institution not based on cost, but for the relevance of the program and reputation. There have been some pleasant surprises, one being that a courier delivered my textbooks several weeks before the course was due to start. I had not realized that textbooks were included. Also the university provides an informal on-line forum for students to get to know each other, as it can be very lonely being a new student (on-line or on campus).
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