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Distance Learning

The defining feature of distance learning is that you don't need to travel to a university or college: a student with family or work commitments can study at home, and obtain the same, quality degree obtained by a student who attends the campus.

How long does it take to get a degree by Distance Learning?

Generally, a Distance Learning (D/L) student is allowed up to eight years to complete a first degree, and from two to five years to complete a postgraduate degree. Depending on the programme, students may be required to attend short courses or seminars during the period of study. On the whole though, they can choose for themselves where, when and for how long they study.

What materials are provided?

The materials sent to students may include workbooks, video programmes, and computer disks. Some institutions deliver programmes of study to the student via the Internet.

How do I get help if I don't understand something?

Most institutions assign D/L students to a tutor, who communicates with the student by phone, letter, fax, or email. Often, summer schools or revision classes are provided by the home institution. Some institutions also provide tutorials with the aid of computer and/or video conferencing.

Are there any exams?

Work is usually assessed by a written exam at the end of the course. As well as (or instead of) an exam, work may be assessed continually by written assignments which are marked at the home institution. In some cases the examinations are the same as for full-time students on the course.

What qualifications do I need to apply for a D/L course?

Entrance requirements vary. You may need to have the same minimum qualifications as a student attending the institution. However, many D/L courses are designed with the 'mature' student in mind, so work experience may be substituted for qualifications in some cases.

What courses are available?

The main providers of D/L programmes in the UK include the University of London, the Open University and the National Extension College. However, there are over fifty UK universities and colleges now providing D/L programmes. The ECCTIS (UK Course Discover) database (available at British Council offices) lists D/L courses ranging from professional qualifications such as the AAT and ACCA, to the Masters in Business Administration and even Theatre Studies. An on-line list of D/L programmes is at 'Distance Learning: Web'. For school-level study, the World-wide Education Service (WES) produces excellent materials for home schooling. Details are available from their web site at or by e-mail from

How much does it cost?

Some courses cost almost as much as if you were to study in the UK (up to 8,000 to 10,000 pounds sterling per annum), but many are much less expensive. However, in most cases you won't need to find travel expenses, or worry about living costs in the UK. Considering that you will still be able to work full-time, distance learning is a cost-effective option for those who want to further their careers (or make a career change) with a UK qualification.

Distance Learning: choose carefully

If there's one quality successful distance learning students have in common, it's self-discipline. Distance Learning is not for the half-hearted! The working D/L student needs to set (and stick to) a schedule of study which may at times conflict with the demands of the office, and the pressures of family life. If you intend to start on a D/L programme, be prepared to ask the following questions. Only if you are satisfied with the answers should you enrol.

  • Who awards the qualification?
  • How is the qualification recognised:
    by the government? by a professional body?
  • Who controls the quality of the programme?
  • Who is responsible for setting and marking the exams?
  • Are any summer schools or seminars optional, or compulsory?
  • How long will the course take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • What course materials are provided:
    books? tapes? videos? computer programmes?
  • What support is available locally?
  • What are the entry qualifications?
  • How much of the course is evaluated by continuous assessment?
  • How many exams, and where do you sit them?
  • Are there opportunities to transfer to a university or college (full-time) when you have completed part of your course?
  • Is studying by yourself the best option for you?


British Council Information sheets:

  • Learning through distance education

CD-ROM Resources

  • ECCTIS+ (UK Course Discover):
    This database of higher education courses in the UK is searchable by subject, level of study, method of study, region and institution, and is very easy to use. For a username and password to access the ECCTIS web site, telephone British Council Kingston at (876) 929 6915.
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