Younger students taking distance learning courses, often part-time to enable them to attain employment and earn money as they study, are on the increase according to the BBC. The Open University noted a 34% rise in applicants, the same institution which reached a record breaking 20 million downloads on iTunes earlier this year with its open lectures and academic podcasts.
According to the article, the Open University estimates there will be around 45,000 of their students studying in any 24 hour period. The distance learning university has over 500 courses on offer, ranging from undergraduate degrees to doctorates. The very vast majority of these students study from home, using online resources and communication tools to access lecturer and peer support.
The Open University is a one-of-a-kind university which had one simple aim: to allow anyone regardless of level of qualification or lack thereof to study a course which suited them. Based in Milton Keynes, UK, home of Bletchley Park which holds its fame by cracking the German Enigma code, it is now one of the largest universities in the world and has tens of thousands of students in dozens of countries.
The university has more part-time than full-time student, which is offered as an incentive almost as it allows students to work full time and study during the evening. It frees students from tuition debts or loans, and the final degree is regarded as a worldwide standard and highly recognised as a valuable qualification.
This is significant. While it doesn't rule out 'traditional universities' on campus and living in a student environment, it does show an indication of the Generation Y's values and their priorities. By studying part time, it allows them to gain experience in the workplace alongside studying for a qualification - negating the lack-of-experience issue once leaving the slow-track of education.
My younger sister, for example, is about to reach the age of going to university after finishing her further education qualifications earlier this year. She decided to take a part-time degree with the Open University to study business and computing while working full-time, ironically in the education sector.
I must admit, I didn't expect her to take this path; hoping her to experience 'real life adulthood' by moving away from home to enter tertiary socialisation and study amongst her peer group while undertaking the more 'fun' side to university life. Nevertheless, it allows her to work and attain workplace experience and her employers - a public sector body, can assist her with on-the-job benefits to partially pay for tuition fees.