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Growth in online MBAs will cut cost of education

Published on Friday, 11 May 2012
Linda Yeung

A recent attention-grabbing higher education news was the setting up of the US$60-million online-classroom venture called edX by two top American institutions - Harvard and MIT.

Kicking off in the autumn of this year, the venture will deliver free courses in different academic disciplines to anyone who can get online. Instead of just showing videos, it will feature discussions, labs, quizzes, and other so-called interactive learning techniques. Those who fulfil course requirements receive a certificate.

Questions have been raised overseas about which institutions will follow suit, now that the two top US names have made their course content available to all for free. Traditionally, online courses tended to concentrate on subjects such as business that do not require lab experiments. There is no shortage of online MBA courses, though the online mode is far from common.

It is not difficult to see why. Aspiring professionals sign up for the courses to establish networks and boost their management knowledge. They place much value on human contacts in a course that sets them back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Today, chatroom facilities can replace conversation. It can be asked if there is room for a cut in MBA course fees. Popular ones, like Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's full-time offer, costs HK$520,000, inclusive of a chance for overseas exchange and intensive weekend courses at its Clearwater Bay campus; the part-time offer, which does not guarantee an exchange opportunity, costs HK$315,000.

One could imagine that if only parts of the instruction were offered online instead, students could be released from school earlier on Saturdays, catching up with lessons instead at home or in their office by going on-line. Fees might also be slashed due to the lesser labour input.

Amid calls for austerity - certainly in Europe if not in Hong Kong - it makes sense for MBA providers to think of cutting costs without compromising quality.

Pressure for cost reductions may come also as a fallout from the Harvard-MIT venture; competition in the global MBA market may intensify as other institutions open up their course contents. As more options come to the fore, potential students will be more mindful of the price.

The internet has opened numerous doors, one of which is affordable courses. Undoubtedly, quality courses will have the biggest following. Again, time for a careful selection of choices.

Linda Yeung is the Post’s Education Editor, a veteran journalist who studied in Hong Kong and abroad

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