Studying Remotely: What’s The Future Of The University?

It seems likely that we will be studying remotely for some time to come. Could this be an opportunity for Italian and foreign students?

Work is likely to be hybrid or fully remote in some countries and workplaces after COVID-19. But what about studying remotely?

Even without the pandemic, being a student has profoundly changed. Forty years ago, studying abroad was largely impossible for Italians, unless you had a relative abroad and a large sum set aside. Yet since 1987 it has become a reality. Not only is it cheaper and easier — thanks to schemes like Erasmus+ and Erasmus Mundus — but attitudes have changed. It is seen as a new experience, even an important right of passage.

Since 2020, however, the dynamics of studying abroad have changed further. Opportunities that we never imagined — living in Italy but studying in Germany, or working part-time in Belgium while enrolled in a course in Spain — have become possible. And universities have adapted their offerings to make this easier.

But is this something we want as students? We’re taking a look at bright — or not so bright — future of studying remotely that might lie ahead.

How do people feel about studying remotely?

According to a study in October 2020 by the International Student Recruitment Trends, a significant proportion of prospective students (53%) expected to travel abroad to study. Even despite the pandemic, then, many prospective students were still determined to experience the full study-on-site experience.

Interestingly, though, the percentage of prospective students who were willing to start their studies online but move to on-campus study later on increased to 23% in October 2020 from 16% in March/April. This means that it became ‘normal’ for first-year students to start their studies at home and eventually move to the country of study once the situation allowed.

However, at the beginning of the pandemic more than half of prospective students were not interested in studying remotely at all. In 2020 studying remotely didn’t seem the best choice for students. That’s understandable. Studying doesn’t come for free and remote study does offer a very different experience indeed.

But what about in 2021? The experience of learning remotely during the pandemic actually left students with a positive attitude toward online and hybrid courses, the Digital Learning Pulse survey suggests.

According to that survey’s findings, students want online learning options post-pandemic. Both students and faculty members reported that their attitudes toward online learning had significantly improved in the past year. In fact, the studied showed online courses do not have to be just an emergency option. Changes could be as simple as bringing guest lectures into the classroom remotely, utilizing a learning management system, or increasing use of digital textbooks and open educational resources in courses.

These new technologies could keep students interested and engaged and could raise the number of graduates, especially in Italy where universities face some threats, both in the academic and in the employment sector.

Living in one country, enrolled in another

Yet for Italians living abroad, there has been one practical problem in particular that the pandemic has caused. Can you live in one country while studying in another?

The reality is that it depends. Depending on the location of the university and your residence, this may not be possible. In some cases, though, by getting in touch with the university, you may find out that it is doable.

For European students or prospective students the worst case scenario is when you are enrolled outside the EU. For instance, in the UK if you don’t hold a British nationality and have not yet moved to the UK because of the COVID-19 pandemic and are currently studying remotely from the EU, you should really be in the UK — at least for half the year.

Yet if you are in Europe and your university is in Europe, you shouldn’t have many problems. Some universities, such as the University of Vienna, encourage enrolled students to study remotely. Courses take place in a digital format, as far as possible, while exams can be held digitally or on site. Courses that must take place on site, such as laboratory courses or sports courses, continue to be held on site.

Some other institutions, such as the Centre International de Formation Européenne, offers Masters for part-time students, such as the Executive Master in EU Studies. Students have classes online while some workshops are to be attended on site in different cities.

Sometimes, if the course is held online due to COVID-19, the price might be reduced. This was the case at the Winter School, for example, at the Brussels School of Governance. For universities, this could prove to be a way to attract students who really want to enroll but don’t know if they will be able to move to a different country.

The costs of studying

One of the main attractions for Italians of studying abroad is the cost. Italy remains one of the most expensive places to study in Europe. Since 2004, student fees have increased by 82% on average across the country. Now they range between a minimum of €900 and a maximum of €4,000 a year.

When there are countries in Europe, such as Germany, where universities don’t charge tuition fees to either EU or non-EU nationals, it is understandable that many Italian students choose to study abroad. In parts of Belgium, too, EU/EEA nationals spend only €950 a year on tuition fees, a fraction of the cost in Italy. Even if many millennials are currently moving back to Italy, there remains a considerable brain drain to northern Europe — and not just students but researchers too. The problem for Italy is that young people are finding many more, and more affordable, opportunities abroad.

In this context, remote learning across borders appears more attractive than ever. With the high costs of study in Italy — but the increasing attractions of staying in our home country — studying abroad while staying put is something that is making more sense.

Ultimately, study should be an option open to everyone from everywhere. To this end, there is an imperative to make remote learning more convenient and flexible, especially for part-time students who have reported that commuting has a severely negative effect on their university experience and academic success. For the foreseeable future, it seems likely that students will have more flexibility in how they choose to learn. Let’s make that work for everyone.

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