Because distance learning is normally done part-time, acquiring an honours degree is going to take longer than attending a standard university – six years instead of three years, perhaps. But the opportunity to combine part-time study with work can be a godsend.

For one 23-year-old international skier, travelling the world while competing for Team GB, full-time attendance at university was not an option. But thanks to distance learning, she has acquired a psychology degree through the Open University, mugging up on Freud and Jung in ski resorts across the world.

Distance learning as an option for young people, and not just those of more advanced years, is clearly taking off. There are now 29,000 OU students under the age of 25. The majority work part or full-time while they study.

How they carve up their time is up to them – that is the beauty of the system. But 55 per cent of OU students in the 18-24 age range hold down full-time jobs and burn the midnight oil to get their qualifications. Some pleasures need to be put on hold, but the reward is improved career prospects.

Distance-learners in the over-50 age range typically study subjects which interest them, with no other motivation. In contrast, 89 per cent of the Open University’s younger learners have chosen courses which will further their long-term career ends. Popular courses for these students include science, IT and social sciences.

The cost of distance-learning courses varies. If you want to get a BSc in psychology from the OU your total costs would be around £15,000 or £5,000 per year if studying full time. This is based on 120 credits of study which is equivalent to a year’s full-time study at a campus-based university. Most OU students will study part-time at 60 credits a year costing around £2,500 per year.

And if you want to read for a UK degree while resident full-time abroad, you will need to factor in overseas students fees, which will cost you roughly double, depending on the course. But again, there is flexibility. You can register for a distance-learning course from a UK address, be resident there most of the year, but still spend a substantial time working and travelling abroad.

 

career guidance for young people

For a 22-year-old from Bristol, who works as cabin crew on a UK-based airline, study time often has to be snatched at 30,000 feet, while the passengers are napping.

“It depends on the route how busy we are. Sometimes I can get a whole chapter read in the course of a flight. At other times, I am interrupted every other sentence.”

For those interested in gaining business qualifications through distance learning Coventry-based RDI might be worth considering. RDI has been a distance learning specialist since 1994, and is the world’s biggest independent provider of UK university distance learning courses, with some 5,000 students in more than 150 countries. Roughly half of its students are based in the UK. It delivers MBAs and other vocational courses in conjunction with nine British universities.

Courses tend to be firmly business-orientated. If you want to study philosophy or French literature, you have come to the wrong place. But the academic content is rigorous, leading to bona fide degrees awarded by respected universities.

The universities design the courses. RDI students study exactly the same programmes as students enrolled at the universities, and acquire the same qualification. But practical support is provided by RDI, which has its own team of qualified tutors on hand to counsel and advise through online forums.

The main support vehicle at RDI is ilearn, a free online campus and classroom. This learning platform was designed specifically for RDI students, who could be studying anywhere in the world at any time of day. With ilearn, students are not alone. If they are having trouble understanding course material, help is at hand.
The majority of RDI students are in full-time jobs and juggling work and study so they need to be disciplined and, although it is quite possible to take five or six years to complete a three-year course, study cannot be stretched out indefinitely. So focus is vital.

On the other hand, students are generally mature enough to have worked out their priorities and learnt how to organise their time. And if they have to make sacrifices in their private lives, they calculate that it will be worth it in the long run.

RDI is a private company, so its students cannot access government loans, but it offers an attractive pay-as-you-go alternative. Students do not need to pay the full cost of a course up front – they pay the fees for each module in turn.

The cost of courses varies, with a top-of-the-range MBA costing £13,500, but alternative MBAs £8,245 – a competitive price for the equivalent of a three-year university course. At a time when the top universities are charging students £9,000 a year RDI, like other distance-learning providers, is looking quite a bargain.

The distance-learning model seems certain to attract increasing interest. Many distance learning students are already part of the workforce, but they want to earn more, get promoted, be in a position to apply for better jobs in other organisations and, thanks to the flexibility of distance learning, they can achieve those goals far more readily than a generation ago.

More about open and distance learning