12 January 2017

Studying online degrees at the University of Hertfordshire is helping people with physical disabilities and mental health issues get a university education without the pressures and challenges of university campus life.

The standard and quality of teaching and assessments are comparable to those set for campus-based students, but the flexibility is key to helping students with very specific needs to achieve a degree. Technology plays an essential role in the process by allowing lecturers to support students whilst they are at home but also help them develop their key skills and subject knowledge.

Karen Leong Trimarchi, Programme Leader for the online Business Administration degree, said: ‘Studying online makes getting a degree accessible for everyone. For example, this course is suitable for students with various types of disabilities as it enables students to benefit from the flexibility of online study with tutor support throughout. This means they are able to make up modules if they suddenly fall ill and are unable to attend lessons at the start of a particular semester.’

"...joyous celebration..."

This can and has helped all kinds of students from those located internationally to those who have special needs and commitments. Bilal Mahmood-Chohan, 30, from Watford, graduated with distinction from the Business Administration online programme in December last year. He has Dystonia, a movement disorder that can cause muscle spasms and contractions. It means Bilal has little control over his body’s movement and he cannot speak. But he was still able to complete his degree at Hertfordshire because of web-based teaching.

He said: ‘I felt mixture of emotions after graduating. A sadness because the daily routine and joy of learning with the University was over. But also a huge sense of joyous celebration because I graduated and managed to stay the course despite all the challenges. I am now classed amongst those who are capable and smart. I have proven to myself and others that the so-called disabled are actually able.’

For students with extreme physical or mobility issues, working from the comfort of their home and studying in their own time is essential. It also means they can work towards meeting the necessary assessment deadlines independently, but without the pressure of a classroom environment.

First-class tutors

This is something that was imperative for Bilal’s success, he added: ‘It meant I could take my time to understand what was required of me and study when it suited me at any time of the day or night.’

Bilal says the absence of face-to-face, direct teaching didn’t impact on the quality of the learning. He added: ‘the online tutors were first-class and interesting with a skilful direction for study. Everyone was willing to make time for me and the staff’s full support was always available’.

But it isn’t just those with physical disabilities that can benefit from online learning, the benefits of web-based study can also help those who have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and stress.

Since its introduction in 2013, the online degree has enabled students with mental health problems to complete their study at home, become independent learners and work individually or in groups.