Distance Learning in UK Universities: How do UK Universities compare to global benchmarks?

Distance learning has shown significant growth over recent years, and the latest Student Barometer dataset demonstrates that UK universities are outperforming global benchmarks in several key areas. Here we examine the key indicators.

Overall satisfaction for distance learners has bounced back amongst UK students and is currently ahead of the global benchmark. In response to “Overall, how satisfied are you with all aspects of your experience at your institution”, 89% of UK distance learners (i.e. students who chose to be distance learners, as opposed to those who transitioned to distance learning due to COVID-19) were satisfied or very satisfied, three percentage points higher than the global average of 86%. This has increased by five percentage points from 2020 to 2021, only one percentage point behind the pre-pandemic (2019) result.

Value for money is significantly above the global benchmark; 83% of distance learners at participating UK institutions agreed or strongly agreed that their current course is good value for money. This is notably higher than the global benchmark (76%), although not quite at pre-pandemic levels. However, this is not surprising given the disruption caused by COVID-19, with many students expressing that they did not receive the standard of education that they had expected for their tuition fees.

We asked students, “Do you have any concerns about completing your studies?” 34% of UK distance learners were not at all concerned, which is ten percentage points up on our global average of 24%.

Looking specifically at the online experience, UK universities are outperforming the global benchmark in almost every area. We asked students, “How satisfied are you with the following aspects of your online learning experience?”. Some notable results include online learning resources and library facilities (91% UK vs 89% global); assignments (92% UK vs 88% global); and tests and exams (91% UK vs 89% global).

“Remote learning makes it easier to tailor degrees to the job market and the needs of students, but legacy systems and digital poverty must be addressed.” (World University Rankings, 2022).

Digital poverty is a huge problem, impacting tens of thousands of university students across the UK. Despite digital poverty, a lot has changed since the start of the pandemic with regards to how universities view and manage the experiences of distance learners.

“The problem before the pandemic was that many universities didn’t seriously consider online education as a credible and valuable part of their portfolio. I think this is where we’re now seeing change and a number of universities are endeavouring to upscale their online education portfolios.” (Mosley, 2022).

UK universities certainly understand the importance of offering a high-quality experience for distance learners, and this culminates in a higher Net Promoter Score and propensity to recommend, both of which are significantly higher than the global benchmarks.

The distance learning model will no doubt remain an attractive option for universities, particularly if they can deliver a robust student experience. The key will be in understanding the experiences and perceptions of their particular university population, so that institutions can make the right decisions about how they develop their delivery to maintain a high quality of education and experience, whilst illustrating good value for money.

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World University Rankings, The Covid-19 pandemic forces UK universities to reimagine their campuses, 2022
 Mosley, Neil, Online education, so what’s changed? 2022 

The Student Barometer helps institutions make informed decisions to enhance the domestic and international student experience and drive successful recruitment and marketing strategies.

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