A New Route To Learning

Teach9’s New Online Learning Platform provides certainty in an uncertain educational climate

Tuition fees have been increasingly in the news of late, starring centre stage as the latest ‘political hot potato’ that nobody seems to want to catch. Whilst the future of the charges seems more uncertain than at any time since their rise to £9,000 per year in 2011, the uncertainty seems to be turning students toward tuition alternatives, such as online learning models.

Over the past week or two:

  • UCAS figures published this week show that university applications have fallen by 4%.

  • A Times Higher Education Survey (THE) highlights that one in three university vice-chancellors surveyed back scrapping fees.

  • Lord Andrew Adonis, who helped introduce tuition fees in the 1990s, publicly calledfor fees to be scrapped.

  • And Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, said Labour’s “ambition” was towrite off all student debt, which would cost £100 billion.

Almost every student will experience the existential crisis that the burdens of tuition fees beset upon them. “Is it all worth it?” we ask ourselves. “Will I ever be able to pay off my debts? What am I doing here?”

The uncertainty and questions that students feel has given rise to a new perspective on how one should learn and students and parents are now looking at non-traditional, quality based routes to learning.

Routes to learning have often come in many guises, but perhaps always sat on the outside perimeters of education; indeed, they have been viewed as an additional way to ‘top up’ one’s learning, or to bolster one’s performance.

Whilst this remains a huge USP of online tuition platforms, the newest kid on the block, Teach9 are on the cusp of the launch of a mobile app that allows students to ask questions, share resources and deliver access to the tools they need to act as a complete substitution of offline classes. Their soon to be launched online learning platform ‘Power by The Minute’ is not just a top-up tool, but a holistic peer driven environment that allows parents to feel their child is learning in a secure online classroom whist affording students the freedom to shape their learning around the subject areas that suit them.

It is less prescriptive, and gives autonomy back to the students – something that has got lost in the constant curriculum tweaking that successive Governments have presided over. Students can ask any question with no pressure or feelings of inadequacy that might be associated with the traditional classroom.

The online application allows students from any part of the world to potentially connect to an expert in their subject area such as an emeritus professor of mathematics based in the UK, to get the best and most exhaustive response to a question. It is this that gives Power By The Minute its USP. The answers are moulded around the student’s needs, and are not just given to them with an expectancy to learn the problem ‘the same way’ that a traditional classroom is expected to. Giving the student the ability to adapt his or her needs around a maths, science, or language problem enables a more holistic, needs based paradigm of learning – one that is starting to be used outside of classrooms, in areas such as health and social care, in wellness and mental health.

The application is priced as a pay-as- you-go model which suits parents and students on tight budgets, and during the uncertainty over the future of traditional education - this seems an attractive proposition.

The concept of tuition-free university seems almost unfathomable nowadays for most. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) now tells us that most of us will ride on a graduate-debt wave of over £50,000. That’s an expensive wave.

With Government ministers past and present now telling us that there must be a rethink on tuition, there is an appearance of a paradigm shift: is the ground shifting beneath our feet? UCAS figures this week have shown that university applications have fallen by 4% – a drop of 25,000.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, outlined on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that it is Labour’s “ambition” to eviscerate all outstanding student debt, conceding that this could cost over £100 billion. Ms Rayner went on to say: “We will not announce that we’re doing it unless we can afford to do that.”

In response, Conservative MP Luke Hall said: “Labour are making shambolic promises to spend £100 billion extra, without any idea of how to fund it, that could only be paid through higher taxes on families.”

Meanwhile, Lord Adonis, the architect behind tuition fees under Tony Blair’s Government in the 1990s – which began at £1,000 a year in 1998 and rose to £3,000 from 2006 – has called for fees to be scrapped, describing them as his “Frankenstein’s monster”. He said that the 6.1% interest rates being charged on student debts are “indefensible”, and that the scale of debt and interest rates is “about as bad a political gambit as you could imagine."

A THE report this week showed that one in three university vice-chancellors surveyed back Labour’s proposals to scrap fees. The same survey highlighted that nearly half of English vice-chancellors surveyed believe that the current status quo is “unsustainable."

The vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, Professor Keith Burnett, told THE: “If we let it carry on I think that it will result in a decreasing political consensus for the present system."

This debate has raged on as reports by the IFS about mounting student debt hitting the poorest students hardest have surfaced. Jo Johnson, the Universities’ Minister has swiftly rushed to the defence of fees. Johnson outlined in the Guardian the view that tuition fees allow the Government to reconcile its three policy objectives for undergraduate higher education: to reduce inequality, to fund institutions on a level which facilitates global competitiveness, and also to share the cost “between the individual student benefitting from a graduate earnings premium and taxpayers in general, most of whom will not have attended university.”

Johnson said: “The fact that some loans never get fully repaid is a deliberate subsidy for the lowest-earning graduates, not a symptom of a broken student finance system.” Johnson went on to cite the “paradox” that fees improve access to higher education.

However, UCAS figures this week have shown that university applications have fallen by 4% – a drop of 25,000. The UCAS report shows that for Black and Minority Ethnic applicants there has been a fall in applications by 9%, on top of a decrease from prospective mature students by 16%.

Tuition fees have increased to £9,250 this year following inflation, and with levels of inflation near 3%, they will almost certainly continue the upward creeping trajectory.

The University and College Union (UCU) General Secretary Sally Hunt, said: “Successive Governments’ efforts to transfer the bill for higher education teaching onto graduates have created unsustainable levels of debt, with students from low and middle-income backgrounds being hit the hardest by the repayment burden."

Is it any wonder, then that the ground seems to be shifting beneath our feet? Teach9 will shortly be launching their cutting edge online learning platform ‘Power by the Minute’ amidst this uncertain climate. So whatever your subject, whatever your goals – why not look to stand on solid ground amidst all the chaos?

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