Degrees Enter the Virtual World; OPEN & DISTANCE LEARNING

Article excerpt

Byline: SARAH RICHARDSON

AT A time when HEFCE (the Higher Education Funding Council of England) is consulting with universities on a new strategy for e-learning, Royal Holloway College and the University of London External Programme believe they are already delivering a virtual-learning environment. E-degrees, developed as part of a multimillion-pound collaborative venture launched in October, are being designed entirely for online delivery.

"We are at the vanguard of a new age of delivering education," says Royal Holloway vice-principal Professor Andrew Wathey. "It is one that is widening participation and revolutionising how we teach, research, act and interact across the learning world."

It has taken two years for a team of academics, online course designers, web developers and e-librarians to combine their knowledge and skills to make three undergraduate programmes - business management, classics and history, and one Masterslevel programme, information security - available to distance-learners around the world. Since September, 75 students have already signed up for the courses from as far afield as Geneva and Singapore.

Students can complete the undergraduatecourses in three years, and are awarded a University of London degree. All courses employ multimedia components, interactive materials and tutor-facilitated seminars, with electronic resources, databases and online discussions.

The Open University (OU) is also championing advances in technology to bring learning to a wider audience.

"Not everyone enrolled on our earth sciences course will have a digital microscope, for example," says mediarelations officer Louis de la Foret. …