Historian: Oxford Should Embrace Online Courses, Degrees

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

According to “The University of Oxford – A History,” a book cataloging the official history of Oxford University, the institution may face an “uncomfortable future” if it does not embrace the idea of offering online degrees.

The author of the anthology, historian Laurence Brockliss, is convinced that the modern technologies may make universities such as Oxford redundant. The professor also says that it is just a matter of time before digital learning completely transforms higher education.

In an interview with Richard Adams of The Guardian, Brockliss states that Oxford should offer bachelor-level courses via online learning, and in doing so could solve the long-time controversies it has faced over student access. Brockliss also argues that Oxford should launch a pilot program to offer 1,000 18-year-olds online courses in different areas to experiment and see how it works and how it can be improved.

The historian also claims that the lack of online courses prevents Oxford from recruiting students from different backgrounds, notes the University Herald.

In his book, the professor of history at Magdalen College criticizes Oxford for not having strong enough links with the general public. Brockliss points out that the outside world still thinks Oxford or Cambridge are not places for ordinary people. The professor believes that online degree courses would have a vital role in assisting the university to attract students from different social circles. It would also improve its connections with the public, he says:

“Oxford can take the lead and potentially enjoy a future where its influence is even greater than it is at present – and where the carping about the social profile of its graduates would be finally laid to rest.”

As William Long of Cherwell noted, the professor also argued that Oxford should consider going private because it is vulnerable to the constant shifts in government funding. One of the major advantages of that, according to Brockliss, will be freedom from government demands.

Furthermore, the professor also reiterated that the university has often been criticized, including by Prime Minister David Cameron, for its insufficient record in admitting students from ethnic minorities and students from state schools, writes Matt Oliver of Oxford Mail.

Harry Gibbs, JCR IT Officer at Jesus College, admitted he did not support the significant changes offered by Professor Brockliss. Gibbs said that the everyday face-to-face discussions and the network students create while at Oxford are an integral part of the education:

“The technology is there (and growing- the potential for virtual reality is huge), and it could be adapted to suit these sorts of things, but there’s no way it can match the experience of being here.”

The news follows a series of attempts to offer online education in the US. Top-ranked institutions Harvard and MIT started working together to launch edX, which offers a range of high-quality courses and certificates. A team of academics from Stanford created Coursera, which offers certified college courses and paid specializations to the public.

Arizona State University has also been providing distance learning opportunities for several years now, with the addition of the Global Freshman Academy that provides a full year of courses to prospective college students. The California State system also recently announced plans to admit a quarter-million students to online degree programs.