From education to employment

Living as a student is unaffordable – it’s time for a new model

Dino Dullabh FE News Exclusive

There is a common thread that links the cost-of-living as a student across the globe. It’s rising – and quickly. The last two years have seen the cost-of-living for UK students rise by 15%, whilst students in Australia and Canada have been confronted with rises of 8%. In the US, meanwhile, the rent for student housing grew faster than for regular multifamily housing.

Clearly, the current approach isn’t sustainable, particularly if the sector is to achieve its goals of making further and higher education more accessible to those from lower-income backgrounds. Fortunately, an alternative is available – which has been shown to work.

By embracing an online approach to education and refreshing a model that has arguably failed to keep up with the times, universities, students and professions, such as the legal industry, all stand to benefit.

Easing the pressure on housing

One of the most basic rules of economics is that prices will rise when supply can’t keep up with demand. That’s the situation that university staff and students alike currently find themselves in when it comes to finding a place to live within easy reach of campuses. The availability of ‘digs’ hasn’t kept up with the increase in the number of university employees and students, with competition between staff, students, and the wider public driving up the cost-of-living around universities.

The result is that students are being discouraged from attending university whilst staff are either struggling with long commutes or leaving academia. Of course, universities could invest in building more accommodation themselves, but this won’t happen overnight and, in a difficult economy, may not be financially achievable.

But by moving to an online model, or at least increasing their online offering, universities could, at a stroke, reduce the pressure on local housing supplies. That would also spare students and staff long potentially expensive commutes, providing both a financial and academic benefit with numerous studies demonstrating the negative impact that commuting has on academic performance.

A more diverse student body

To improve the diversity of lawyers, doctors, accountants and other professions, we first need to improve the talent pool those professions hire from. There’s no doubt that some encouraging progress has been made on this front and there is a willingness to do more. Dame Sue Carr, the UK’s first Lady Chief Justice, said as much when speaking recently at the Inspirational Women in Law Awards, pointing to the admirable active steps that the judiciary is taking to become more diverse and better reflect the population of the UK.

But if the pool of applicants does not become more diverse, neither will the judiciary. Which is where education has its part to play. Inflexible and expensive university courses naturally stifle diversity. On the other hand, affordable courses with flexibility baked in by design make earning professional qualifications more achievable for all, particularly for those from underrepresented or underprivileged groups.

Move with the times

The world has moved on from a time when in-person was the only way to learn and work. Technology has advanced and working patterns have shifted. Universities need to operate in a way that reflects this, adapting their offering and approach to mirror their students’ (and indeed employees’) needs rather than just sticking with tradition for tradition’s sake.

Courses need to be online by design rather than just replicating the physical model with a teacher in front of a web camera rather than a classroom. Teaching online doesn’t mean distance learning, but it does need to be ‘online by design’ to ensure the courses are engaging, interactive, effective and flexible. That will pose challenges to universities, particularly those without experience of teaching online.

But those educational institutions that have embraced online learning have demonstrated that it can be done. So the real challenge for ‘legacy’ institutions is to catchup with their online peers to ensure they’re playing their part in ensuring education is available and affordable for all.

By Dino Dullabh, Co-Founder and Director of Education at Law Training Centre

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