There is a very interesting article from OBHE, the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education, on distance learning enrollments in Australia, UK, and USA – featured on their front page. This looks at enrollments and the split between domestic and international students in a way maybe familiar to those used to HESA statistical tables.

The full article is available only to OBHE subscribers, but their public summary observes:

One sign that an “innovative” feature of higher education has truly mainstreamed is when governments start to publish statistics about it. What about one prominent innovation – online learning? The first online degrees appeared over twenty years ago, and played a big part in the dotcom boom of 1997-2000. Since then, despite bouts of skepticism and disillusionment, online features, courses and programs have proliferated in many higher education systems around the world. Most recently, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) sparked another surge of interest.

Online learning has never been short of hyperbole, but what about hard data on student numbers? Are governments collecting the same kinds of data, or are there inconsistencies? What does the data suggest about the health of online learning markets in higher education?

This Observatory analysis looks at the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. Over the years, all have produced grand online higher education schemes of one kind or another- but does online now show up in official statistics?

Note that quite a lot of UK universities are OBHE subscribers.

It would be really useful to have details on other countries of interest especially in the Commonwealth of Nations.

There is a little bit of information I know about on Canada, but it is a few years out of date. In the article Online University Education in Canada: Challenges and Opportunities (updated January 2012) it states that “Between 2005 and 2010, CVU [Canadian Virtual University] universities reported that about one to three percent of their online students were international”. The rest of the article is very interesting and deserves more detailed analysis.

A key aspect is that the article goes on to suggest (on page 11) that low uptake is likely due to

student loan regulations, accreditation, language, quality assurance, professional sector differentiation, legal and financial systems, preference for local services and entities, and some countries’ policies regarding recognition of non‐domestic online credentials (particularly if taken at home).

However, given the borderless nature of online education, globalization, and the increasing need for universities to attract more international students, it is only a matter of time before competition for international online students becomes just as heated as competition for on‐campus international students.

Canada, therefore, needs to be prepared to compete in the global online education market.

Not only Canada, I feel.

Paul