Growing universities’ online business 

Distance learning is the future, says Professor Geoff Smith

By Professor Geoff Smith, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Falmouth University

With a Brexit shaped cloud hanging over international recruitment, a domestic demographic dip and anxieties about student debt, Universities across the country are increasingly concerned about recruitment figures this year and into the future. 

How can universities innovate and diversify, in order to thrive in this competitive and challenging environment? There are only two ways: take greater market share and open new markets.

Falmouth University is ranked as the UK’s number one arts university for the third year running, our NSS scores continue to rise and we offer a portfolio of dynamic, industry facing courses on our campuses in Cornwall. Our successes mean that we are able to grow and we are taking market share. However, we also want to future-proof our recruitment and are therefore packaging up our world-class teaching and expertise and exporting it across the world.

The global, part-time, flexible market is currently underserved by the UK higher education sector.

There is growing demand for distance learning from international students, particularly in emerging markets. More and more people are attracted by the reputation of a top UK institution, but face barriers to relocation. These might be mature students, professionals in work who want to up-skill, those who can’t undertake the financial cost of a year abroad or those unable to obtain a visa. 

Distance learning isn’t new, but for a creative arts institution, it’s been unheard of. But why? Nowadays, when we turn to our smartphones and laptops for everything, from Skype conferences, to video tutorials, to online shopping, it is completely natural for modern students to engage in collaborative learning remotely.

With our partners, Cambridge Education Group, Falmouth University has developed a new and ground breaking suite of creative online MA programmes. 

Surely a ‘hands-on’ course in Photography can only be delivered through hands-on learning and teaching? Well, we’ve changed the rules

Many of our competitors remain sceptical of online creative degree courses. Surely a ‘hands-on’ course in Photography can only be delivered through hands-on learning and teaching? Well, we’ve changed the rules. We have highly motivated students studying Photography with us in locations across the world. We also offer Masters courses in Creative App Development, Creative Events Management and Advertising & Marketing. 

We’ve shown that through pedagogical innovation, a commitment to quality and the right partner, it’s possible to open access to international markets without significant capital investment. Universities should approach the current challenges in student recruitment as an opportunity to re-imagine their audience. In our case, the benefits of going online are two-fold: firstly, it’s burnishing the Falmouth brand and, secondly, it’s moving the financial needle. Already, 40% of Falmouth’s postgraduate applications are for our online degrees and this is set to rise significantly.