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Online learning index

The popularity of online education has dramatically increased over the last few years, with the number of online students doubling between 2020 and 2021. Therefore, it looks like distance learning is here to stay, but which universities offer the best online learning opportunities?
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Online Learning Index

The Covid pandemic and the shift towards virtual meetings, events and lessons led to more students studying online than ever before. Studying from home has since proved to be just as recognised as studying in a lecture theatre. For distance-learning programmes, students benefit from flexible access to materials and recorded lectures.

With our cheap broadband deals, students can find the best speeds for their online learning needs at an affordable price.

This report analyses 50 of the most populated UK universities on their online course offerings, university ratings and research quality, to reveal the best for students hoping to study online.

If you’re thinking of studying online and want to improve your connection, be sure to compare broadband deals to guarantee you get the best package. 

The best universities for online learning

The University of Cambridge ranks as the best university for online learning, followed by University College London, University of Leeds, University of Birmingham, and University of Edinburgh.

1. University of Cambridge - Online learning score 8.94

Online degrees - 38
Online short courses - 81
Guardian university rating - 97.8
Research quality  - 88%
Student Rating - 4.48/5

At number one on this list is the University of Cambridge. Cambridge is one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, owing to its exceptional score of 97.8/100 from the Guardian. Students have also bestowed a 4.48/5 on the University of Cambridge for its student experience, the second highest on this list.

The reputation of Cambridge speaks for itself, but it also excels when it comes to online education. While not everyone gets an equal opportunity to study at Cambridge, the university makes a point of ensuring its courses are as accessible as possible for its students via the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education (ICE).

Some of its award-winning online undergraduate courses include creative writing, coaching, history, international relations and business. There are also many short courses covering topics such as ancient Egypt, law and genetics.

2. University College London - Online learning score 8.37

Online degrees - 110
Online short courses - 382
Guardian university rating - 82
Research quality - 87%
Student Rating - 4.14/5

In second place is University College London (UCL). UCL offers a very wide choice of distance-learning programmes, with 110 online degrees and 382 online short courses available. This university also has a high Guardian rating of 82/100, a great research quality of 87%, and an exceptional 4.14/5 student-rated experience.

The wealth of distance learning options at the university includes online master’s degrees and graduate diplomas across several different subjects. These include the likes of neurology, education, sports and more.

UCL is one of the biggest universities in the country by total enrolment (45,715), with many of its students studying online.

3. University of Leeds - Online learning score 8.08

Online degrees - 44
Online short courses - 90
Guardian university rating - 75.2
Research quality - 84%
Student Rating - 4.41/5

Coming in third is the University of Leeds, with an online learning score of 7.84/10. Leeds offers a decent selection of online programmes, from 44 fully online degrees to 90 online short courses. With a research quality of 84% and a high student rating of 4.14/5, the University of Leeds is a brilliant choice for online learners.

Leeds’ online degree programmes are led by top academics at the forefront of research. The University’s short courses can be accessed via FutureLearn and Coursera, and cover areas ranging from academic skills to continued professional development.

The University of Leeds also furnishes a good selection of online learning PhDs. These are offered by the Faculty of Environment and the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures.

4. University of Birmingham - Online learning score 7.84

Online degrees - 116
Online short courses - 27
Guardian university rating - 72.3
Research quality - 86%
Student Rating - 4.46/5

In fourth place on this list is the University of Birmingham. Not only does Birmingham have an exceptional score of 85% research quality for its programmes, it is also a student favourite, achieving a high 4.46/5 student experience rating.

There are over 100 online degrees available at the University of Birmingham allowing you to study at your own pace. These are postgraduate opportunities across a range of subjects, bolstered by 27 modern and flexible online courses to supplement your learning.

Earn a diploma, Master’s degree, a PhD or conduct Doctorate-level research fully online at the University of Birmingham.

5. University of Edinburgh

Online learning score - 7.75
Online degrees - 74
Online short courses - 83
Guardian university rating - 79.3
Research quality - 85%
Student Rating - 4.18/5

The University of Edinburgh, located in Scotland's capital city, is rated as the fifth-best university for distance learning.

The University of Edinburgh offers 74 online degrees and 83 short courses. With a high research quality of 85% and a Guardian score of 79.3, the University of Edinburgh is considered a great choice for distance learning. University of Edinburgh students have rated their experience at a high 4.18/5.

The university offers a range of shorter free courses across three different platforms:  Coursera, Edx and FutureLearn. Alongside this, there are fully online courses that have the same status as any other on-campus university degree. The university also offers full support such as access to career consultants and IT guidance.

The best universities for online learning rank table.
Accounting ranks as the most popular online course with 7,695 annual searches. This is followed by English, Marketing, Business and Psychology.

By analysing Google search data, this report also reveals the most popular online courses in the UK at current.

1. Accounting - 7,695 Annual Google Searches

Accountants often earn a bachelor's degree in accounting to help them qualify for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. Passing the CPA opens up more opportunities and positions at advanced levels. Not only is it possible to study accounting online, but many employers are currently offering remote accounting opportunities.

2. English - 7,362 Annual Google Searches

Degrees in English are often designed to leave students with a comprehensive understanding of linguistics, grammar, writing, and literary analysis. English degrees encourage students to dissect theories and critically evaluate language and literature, both of which can be done virtually.

3. Marketing - 6,381 Annual Google Searches

Marketers look to make use of consumer trends in order to help organisations stand out from competitors and become profitable. Often taught in tandem with other business topics, marketing is a great choice for those looking to start a career in the business world, and such degrees can be studied from the comfort of your own home.

4. Business - 6,276 Annual Google Searches

Business degrees can range from business administration, marketing, management, strategy, finance, human resources and international business. Despite the breadth of content, business degree assignments can be completed anywhere and at any time, meaning these degrees are perfect for online learners.

5. Psychology - 5,568 Annual Google Searches

Psychology degrees are often the first step in becoming a qualified psychologist or mental health professional. Psychology can also be useful for other careers though, including education, business and marketing, and academia. Despite being a science-based subject, online psychology programmes are conducted with as much academic rigour and structure as on-campus programmes.

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