In Part II we will be discussing options for studying in South Africa. In the last decade South African universities have seen more overseas students applying - many from the U.S. The appeal of these universities is three-fold.
Firstly, and perhaps chiefly, tuition costs in the U.S. and the U.K. can be prohibitive to many and stipends for doctoral work are no longer guaranteed and in many seminaries not available at all. The South African programs tend to be considerably less and allow most from western nations to pay outright without taking out education loans. In the realm of theological education this is attractive because many that enter this field end up working for churches or non-profits that are not near the high-end of the pay scale. For many of the universities, budgeting $2,000 a year would be sufficient. The programs are subsidized, which accounts for the pricing, but combined with them being considered equal to regionally accredited institutions in the U.S. makes them a good option for those that want to marketable in various regions.
The second draw for foreign students in South African universities is the choice of programs. If you want to study, odds are, they have it at one of the universities. The University of South Africa (UNISA) in particular has a massive amount of programs and many of the universities will have programs related to theology, church history, or biblical studies.
The third draw to these universities is the distance options. Being part of the British Commonwealth, South Africa has long followed the British model of higher education, which includes the research-based doctoral programs (and a large number of research-based masters options too). What this means for many students (depending on the school) is that if you have good research libraries near you, you can stay where you are and communicate with your sponsor/mentor through the various technological means we have available to us today. South Africa has been leading the charge in distance doctoral programs and now has several institutions that are able to offer quality programs that would be marketable where ever in the world you find yourself. Below is a list of institutions. I didn't include the estimated cost of attendance, because it is mostly the same for all of these. I'd recommend checking out the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, as both are usually ranked high among international universities. South African Theological Seminary has a good introduction program that walks you through your research proposal, so that is often useful for those that haven't done that before. University of South Africa (UNISA) has ton of programs and is one of the largest universities in the world. Rhodes University and especially the University of Witwatersrand are both well respected, although the latter is a mouthfull.
South African Theological Seminary
University of Cape Town
University of South Africa
University of Witwatersrand
One of the major trends we've seen at this website in the last several years has been the increase in questions about distance education, specifically doctoral degrees (Ph.D./D.Phil, Th.D., D.Min., etc.). There are actually some good options out there. This post will cover some basic information about UK schools that offer distance options and what they would entail. This list isn't exhaustive, but should help you start your search.
The first thing you should know about doctoral programs in the U.K. concerns the format of the degree. The U.K. usually offers research-based doctorate programs. This means that there is no classwork, like in the U.S., and you undertake your dissertation after the completion of a research proposal. Because of this, you should have an idea of what you want to research topic to be and, because of this, you should have one or two professors in mind at the institution you're applying at that would be suitable mentors during this process. That's what they're supposed to be - mentors. They are helping you through these hoops you have to jump through. A professor/adviser that is distant, too busy, and/or a jerk will not aide you in your quest for a doctoral degree, so, if possible, meet with your potential adviser before or during the application process or, at the least, schedule a time to call them and discuss your possible research.
The other thing you need to be aware of is the cost. In the next two parts we'll discuss doctoral programs in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Some UK universities will be much more expensive than many of those other programs that we'll discuss. That being said, The British Council has information for U.S. citizens on financial aid options (as well as some great top-notch information on studying in the UK in general). I've included an estimated cost for each of the UK universities listed below. The estimate is based on figures in The Complete University Guide and at the university websites. Always contact the university directly for the most up-to-date figures and keep in mind that prices can be greatly reduced through financial aid options.
Concerning online or distance options, there are a number of universities that you can either fly to a couple of times a year (for research and to participate in seminars) or that you can do completely from where you are in the world. Whatever school you're looking into, make certain they still offer the option that you're looking for and if you don't see it on the website, call and ask someone about it. I've noticed several institutions that sometimes have a distance option or don't advertise that they have a distance option. Below are some key institutions that have theological education of one kind or another, along with an estimate of the cost per year.
Bristol Baptist College (UK/EU Students - £8000, unclear on their website) (Non-UK/EU Students - £8000)
Highland Theological College (UK/EU Students - £3900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £11042)
University of Aberdeen (UK/EU Students - £3400) (Non-UK/EU Students - £12000)
University of Birmingham (UK/EU Students - £5135) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13200)
University of Bristol (UK/EU Students - £7200) (Non-UK/EU Students - £14000)
University of Cambridge (UK/EU Students - £6065) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13662)
University of Durham (UK/EU Students - £5400) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13300)
University of Kent (UK/EU Students - £4950) (Non-UK/EU Students - £12030)
University of Leicester (UK/EU Students - £2078) (Non-UK/EU Students - £5083)
University of Oxford (UK/EU Students - £5900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £15900)
University of St. Andrews (UK/EU Students - £3900-8900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £14000)
University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (UK/EU Students - £3750) (Non-UK/EU Students - £11000)
Wales Evangelical School of Theology (UK/EU Students - £4900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £9455)
It's not shocking to say that we live in a different mindset than even 20 years ago. Let's think about this, though. 20 years ago there was no widespread use of the internet, cordless phones were popular, but cellphone usage was at a minimum. Today's world allows us to have amazing access to an abundance of information. The repercussions of this mindset have led to some terrible distance education programs and some truly great ones. For those looking into distance education options it can be difficult to tell the better ones from the not-so-great ones. Here are four tips that help you pick out a good program.
1. Accreditation, Accreditation, Accreditation -If real estate evaluation begins with location, then looking for a good online degree programs needs to begin with a look at the school's accreditation. You want to see a link (usually in their About section of the website) that takes you to their accreditation statement. It should read "Such-and-Such College is accredited by the This-and-That Accrediting Body. The This and That Accrediting Body is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation."
So, it's really a two-part thing. Is the school accredited? If yes, then is the accrediting body one that is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation? The reason this last part has become important is that some colleges have created their own accrediting bodies . . . and accredit themselves . . . which is legal, but unethical. That is for institutions in the United States. For non-U.S. institutions you would just make certain that they are authorized by their government's education ministry (or equivalent), since accreditation is a mostly American phenomenon. When in doubt check with an agency like the World Education Services which can provide information about an overseas schools and tell you if their program is equivalent to regional accreditation in the U.S.
2. Delivery Format - Degrees by correspondence never really gained widespread acceptance the way online education has. A good online program is going to take you away from the "complete this at your own pace and mail it back" format to "take this course in this many weeks and complete the weekly assignments" format. The latter format is used by most of the preferred online programs. An online environment generally allows for discussion (by way of discussion forums and chat rooms), timed exams, and access to online lectures or lectures on DVD. This provides the structure that most need to be successful in this type of endeavor. It also allows for interaction with other students, which still isn't as nice as sitting in a classroom with them, but infinitely better than the old correspondence method. Some programs, especially graduate and doctoral programs, may be geared to be hybrids of some sort. By this I mean that you come to class for a week and complete assignments online when you get home. It's kind of the best of both worlds, but I realize that it's not always a possibility.
3. Faculty - Before applying to any program, check out who will be teaching you. I tend to shy away from places that have most of the professors that have ALL of their degrees from the same place. It's common for someone to have a degree or two from the place they're teaching. It is also common to have faculty members at great schools that received all of their degrees from the school they're teaching in. That's not a bad thing. What does make me cautious is when just about everyone has their every one of their degrees from that institution. That is academic inbreeding and a subject for another post.
4. Cost - Sometimes it just comes down to this. "I like this program better, but this other program is cheaper . . . " We can talk about all the rest of the stuff to consider, but without a way to pay for it, then it's not going to do you much good. College or Seminary can be more affordable than you think - and even more affordable than the tuition you see on a school's website. Every school that accepts federal financial aid (which is pretty much all of them) has to have on their website a "cost of attendance calculator." This will allow you to find out what the base cost for you completing your degree will be. This isn't the end of the road, though. Take this figure and talk to the institution's financial aid office. They will be able to tell you what scholarships and grants you apply for. One of the schools that I teach at offers scholarships that take 1/3 off of tuition for several categories. Southern Baptist seminaries offer considerable discounts for members of Southern Baptist churches. Also, many Christian universities and seminaries will offer tuition discounts for those already in ministry. Once your hear back from them about what you are eligible for, this should give you an idea of the real cost of attendance. While some disagree, I also suggest loans for some students. This approach allows you to not have to work full time and go to school (although you still can if you need the money to live on). I find that sometimes using loans for a couple of semester just to "finish up" can relieve a lot of stress for a student. Ideally you would want to not use loans and pay as you go, but it's not the end of the world if you need to take out a loan or two.
Most of this info can apply to any degree program, online or otherwise. However, it's particularly relevant to evaluating online programs. I would love to hear your first-hand accounts of online education and, of course, if you have any questions, feel free to ask those too!
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.