Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Post-Graduate Certificate...

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jul 09, 1999

Posted to WWWDEV 09 July April 1999

Diane Janes wrote, in part:

The University of British Columbia (UBC) located in Vancouver, BC, Canada, is offering a "Post-Graduate Certificate in Technology-Based Distributed Learning."...

I looked up these courses because I thought they might be useful to me. All seemed in order until I found out how much they cost. The first two courses would cost me approximately $1000 per course. See the fees schedule at

According to the information page the maximum number of students for each course is 100; the maximum per tutor is 20. This produces a tuition revenue of $100,000 per course (or $20,000 per tutor).

The courses each run for a three month period.

Now I am having a hard time with these figures. Granted, these courses are probably cost recovery (ie., there would be no federal or provincial support, as is usual for on-campus programs), and granted, university-level tutilage is expensive, but even so, the fees are difficult to justify.

Given that people are in fact registering for the courses it would appear that the market will - for now - bear these fees.

But are people paying these rates because of the nature and the quality of the instruction, or because the courses lead to a post-graduate certification? I cannot help but think that the latter is at least part of the equation, that is, that the market will bear $1,000 tuitions just because that is the perceived cost of the certification, as opposed to the knowledge.

Now I have singled out UBC on this issue, but to be fair, I have looked at similar course offerings from, say, Open University, and the fees are similarly high.

And I find myself in the rather odd position of not being able to obtain certification in the field in which I work, not because I am unqualified or unable, but because I cannot afford to pay $2000 in fees per semester.

So I ask - what justification can UBC, or any similar institute, give for their online fee structures?

And I ask - how long can the educational sector maintain these fee levels, especially if one day they are confronted with (a) competition from the provate sector in the area of course delivery, and (b) more importantly, competition from the private sector in the area of certification.

And let me be clear about this: I am a passionate supporter of non-profit and publicly funded education. If at all possible, I would prefer not to see post-secondary education become the domain of the provate sector.

But I look at fee structures like this, and I am led to believe, that it is inevitable! Because so clearly a private corporation could dramatically undercut such fees, if only they could also provide the certification.


Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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