Distance learning: What are the risks for international students?


Distance learning and online courses have been booming since the pandemic. They were first thought of as an emergency solution, but online courses are increasingly becoming more efficient. But while distance learning has gained momentum, China is taking a hard line: online courses will no longer be recognized; only face-to-face courses will. This is a major concern for Chinese students enrolled in universities abroad. This is an important reminder for international students who are finding it hard to choose before moving abroad to study or distance learning.



China says “NO” to online degrees

There is a small storm brewing in the academic world, although Australian universities welcome China’s decision. In late January, Beijing announced that it would no longer recognize online courses or degrees obtained from foreign institutions. The ban took effect immediately. During the pandemic, many Chinese students opted for online courses, which were, in short, the only way to continue their studies. But this announcement came shortly before the start of the academic year, compelling students enrolled in foreign institutions to start their first semester courses in a rush. Some 40,000 Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities are concerned. 

This is great news for Phil Honeywood, president and CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA). Face-to-face classes are part of the nature of education, but the closure of borders due to the health crisis has created an extraordinary situation and prompted institutions to take unprecedented action. Honeywood, however, admits that such arrangements required a quick response. But others point out Beijing’s intransigence and believe that this measure comes as a real challenge for international students at the start of the school year. In fact, the problem lies in providing visas on time (not to mention other issues such as obtaining flights and accommodation). 

Australia and China are working closely to process as many visa applications as possible. But it seems that there is already a backlog. Chinese students studying abroad are worried and critical of their government’s attitude. Understandably though, Australian universities have declared they will do their best to maintain distance learning courses for students who cannot travel in time.

What is the real worth of diplomas earned via e-learning?

Ever since the health crisis, there has been a real boom in distance learning. These courses are delivered by universities, schools, training centers, government agencies, or other structures, and are open to students as well as professionals, regardless of whether they are expatriates or not. Behind the value of the diploma lies the question of its recognition by an official body, as well as its international acceptance. 

As the name implies, a diploma course provides a diploma. But there are several types of diplomas: 

·       State diplomas, which are essential for working in a particular professional field (in the medical field, for example).

·       National diplomas, which attest to the successful completion of an examination organized and validated by the State.

·       University diplomas, which are issued by the university and do not necessarily have national recognition.

Distance learning institutions may also issue certifications that may include diplomas or other degrees from an accredited institution. Some organizations may also issue certificates, but in general, these are not always officially recognized by a national body. They may, however, be accredited by some partner organizations, but that’s the rub. Some organizations that claim to deliver online courses create doubt by juggling jargon. Inquiring about them can give an initial indication of what type of certification they will issue.

How to choose between universities, training centers and 100% online schools? 

With the health crisis, many universities around the world have developed online courses. This is a constant challenge, which raises the question of the value of courses and the recognition of diplomas.

There are many benefits to choosing a state-accredited university. These institutions can sponsor the student visa, issue the diploma, and some of the larger institutions are recognized worldwide. The same is true for state-approved language schools, which can also sponsor student visas. In addition, if a student wishes to continue his or her studies at a local university, the certification issued by the state-approved language school will guarantee the student’s language skills, which is often a university requirement.

On the other hand, people should be very cautious when opting for the new 100% online schools. While there are many perfectly regulated digital schools, others are taking advantage of the Internet to stay in a gray area and avoid state scrutiny. They often boast success rates close to 100% and offer study programs at an ultra-competitive cost, if not completely free of charge. 

To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is best to always make sure that the institution is officially accredited by the government. If it is, the information should be mentioned on its website. A search by the name of the institution can also remove doubts, but the “name scam” is one of the most common techniques used to deceive prospective students. In fact, these unscrupulous institutions use a well-known name to fool people. For example, we all know about the world-famous Cambridge University, but there is no such thing as Cambridge University of Communication. To avoid this kind of scam, it is recommended that you check the institution’s contact details, consult the course reviews, and be wary of offers that are too attractive, like the possibility of obtaining a “diploma” in a few months for cheap.

Whatever the case, distance learning courses will still have a bright future. They are another way of designing learning curves and, to some extent, contribute to the internationalization of exchanges. While some institutions have opted for an all-digital approach, others prefer to stick with a hybrid model, with a larger share of classroom-based courses. For these institutions, distance learning will remain a support tool adapted to the learning process and the learners.