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How much money does distance learning actually save you? We break it down

At Oxbridge Academy, we have always held that one of the biggest benefits of distance learning is that it saves students money. To back up this claim, we decided to find out just how much you save - if anything at all - when you opt to do your course via distance learning, instead of at a campus-based college.
We looked at everything from course costs to internet data usage to make comparative calculations as accurately as possible.* Here is what we found:

How much money does distance learning actually save you? We break it down
On course fees, you save: R0 – R3,550 in total

To adequately compare course costs, we decided to look at what a National Certificate: N4-N6 Business Management course would cost you at over 10 different South African colleges.

The factor that most influenced course fees was, however, not as much the mode of education as it was a question of whether the college was a private or public college (with the latter being more affordable when it comes to National Qualifications).

Yet at colleges that offered both campus-based learning and distance learning, the distance learning course fees appeared to be either the same as, or somewhat lower than, their campus-based counterparts.

At one private college:
  • A National Qualification is around R3,550 less if you take it via distance learning
Other colleges offering both modes of education (but not the Business Management Certificate in question) also showed lower costs for their distance learning courses. This seems to support the conclusion that — where there is an option — a distance learning course would cost you less.

On textbooks, you save: R1,800 in total

While the actual course fees might not differ greatly, most distance learning colleges include textbooks in their course fees, while many campus-based colleges do not.

Oxbridge Academy, for example, makes a point of promoting all-inclusive fees, ensuring that students are not caught off-guard by additional study costs (such as expensive textbooks) along the way.

Textbooks for the N4-N6 Business Management Certificate Courses are, fortunately, very affordable in comparison to most university textbooks:
  • N4-N6 Business Management textbooks cost R150 - R250 per subject (Source)
This means that for their N4 to N6 Business Management course, a campus-based student will spend a minimum of:

R150 X 4 subjects X 3 levels= R1,800


Additional expenses will COST you: R150 per month

Students might have different additional costs, depending on their mode of study. A distance learning student, for one, might have to spend more money on internet data to receive and submit assignments, while a campus-based student might have the benefit of having access to a computer lab.

It is a fair estimate to say that a distance learning student might spend:
  • R150 per month on additional internet data
This is in lieu of postage costs, as a distance learning student will be able to submit their assignments electronically instead of via post.

Other additional costs might include things like printing, a laptop, stationary, and other study-related expenses. However, these requirements and consequent expenses will generally be the same regardless of mode of study.

On transportation costs, you save: R295 per month

One of the understated financial benefits of distance learning is saving on transportation costs. While distance learning students study from home, and have their study material either delivered, posted, or emailed to them, campus-going students would need to take a R15 taxi trip from their house to campus for each day of class.

Transportation costs might seem trivial, but over the duration of your course it adds up to:

R15 fare X 5 days of class a week X 4 weeks per month= R300 per month


A distance learning student will, however, need to travel to an exam venue 12 times during the 36-month period of their part-time studies. This means they will only spend:

(R15 X 12 exams) / 36 months= R5 per month
Total amount saved: (R300 – R10)=R295


OR, on accommodation costs, you save: R1,008 per month

Alternatively to taking a taxi from home each day, a campus-going student can move to the city to be closer to campus.

However, moving closer to campus will also mean spending more money on rent. In South Africa:
  • A single apartment inside the city costs an average of R1008 per month more than an apartment outside the city (Source)
The take-away here is that, if you are a distance learning student, you will save by not having to spend money on either transport or campus accommodation costs.

On living costs, you save: R360 – R2,072 per month

Distance learning allows you to maintain your current living costs. For a campus-going student, moving away from home and closer to campus might increase your living costs (especially if you were living with your family and sharing the household costs before you started studying).

A campus-based student should take into account that:
  • Personal groceries in South Africa will cost you about R2,072 per month (Source)
Moreover, on-campus spending is also a factor. While frugal students might pack daily lunches, spending money on the odd coffee or snack between classes (especially when socialising with peers) is inevitable. A conservative estimate is:

R35 per meal X 2 times per week X 4 weeks per month= R280 per month
R10 per beverage X 2 times per week X 4 weeks per month= R80 per month
Total amount saved (R280 + R80)= R360


Not having a full-time job, and spending time with peers on campus, might also mean that you will spend much more time and money on social outings. In a 2014 survey, Shweiki Media and Study Breaks found that:
  • 70% of students spent money on bars each month
  • 99% of students spent money on restaurants each month
  • 59% of students spent money on live music each month
Another study, done in 2013 by Fidelity, found that:
  • 69% of students thought that they could have cut spending on entertainment and eating out during their studies.
While these figures might be based on American campus trends, certain student experiences are universal. One South African university, for example, suggests that students budget:
  • R1,500 per month for pocket money.
The grand total:

Distance learning can save you between R8,190 and R55,390 in total for a three-year National Certificate: N4-N6 Business Management course.

Of course, there are countless variables that we cannot take into account in such a simple set of calculations. And there are benefits to each mode of education that simply cannot be monetised (such as experiencing campus life versus gaining work experience while you study).

For many students, however, choosing to study or not comes down to simple financial calculations like those above. Not only do they weigh up the financial cost of studying with the potential long-term earnings, but they also have to consider whether (and how) they are going to afford it all to start with! (You can download our How to Finance Your Studies e-book for FREE if you want some advice on this topic.)

That is why Oxbridge Academy believes that distance learning is particularly suited for South African students. While distance learning might not always offer the easiest solution to prospective students—when it comes down to Rand and Cents, it is the best option out there for getting the qualification you need to start earning more.

Find out more about Oxbridge Academy’s Course Fees and Financial Benefits here.

*To make our comparative calculations fair, we took average costs where we could find them, and made conservative estimates where we couldn’t. The costs given, and calculations made, are thus meant to give general estimations, and do not necessarily reflect the financial realities a student might face in his or her particular situation.

1 Jun 2016 14:46

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