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Live anywhere in the world – and get a degree

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Living among the rubble of post-earthquake Haiti wasn’t going to deter Chris Eigeland from pursuing his academic ambitions.

After speaking alongside a young Haitian at a conference in London when the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Eigeland was moved to visit the Caribbean country to see if he could help.

The Law/Arts student saw some confronting things during his three-month stay.

The lecturers at university were incredibly supportive – they were happy to reply to emails that came in at 4am and all those sorts of things

“For starters, most of the infrastructure was destroyed,” says Eigeland. “Even six months after the earthquake there was still rubble blocking the street.”

There were makeshift hospitals and hundreds of thousands of people living in one of the world’s largest tent cities.

Organisations including UNICEF were building schools, but Eigeland and a friend noticed “there was a bit of a gap in what was being delivered, and that was school supplies”.

While working feverishly on their concept, The Schoolbag, a tote bag containing school supplies that has since been donated to 30,000 Haitian students, Eigeland was also continuing his studies at Griffith University, via satellite wifi provided by an American NGO.

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“I could work late nights and early mornings,” says Eigeland. “The lecturers at university were incredibly supportive – they were happy to reply to emails that came in at 4am and all those sorts of things.”

Eigeland says the Haiti legal system had been destroyed, which he described as “very jarring and a bit of a call to action”.

He was also studying how non-profit organisations were structured – knowledge that he could put into action immediately.

While Eigeland’s studies were officially on-campus, he was able to use technology such as Lecture Capture – which enables students to watch a recording of lectures online – to continue his studies.

Many other students are choosing to take their studies almost entirely off-campus, with more online study options than ever before. Open Universities Australia now offers 170 undergraduate and postgraduate courses online through 13 Australian universities.

A report released by IBISWorld in February shows online education is now a $5.9 billion industry in Australia. The sector grew more than 14 per cent in the past five years thanks to factors including technological advancements and faster internet speeds.

Kate Reynolds harnessed the flexibility of technology when she combined a one-year sabbatical through Asia and Europe with a degree in Business Marketing about four years ago.

“I didn’t want to delay my studies while I took time out from working,” says Reynolds.

“I would be doing essays from beach shacks in Thailand and Laos and exams in Barcelona … mostly on intermittent wifi.”

Reynolds says it was sometimes a little hard to knock back an adventure – for example a full moon party – to stay focused on studying.

But overall she has “great memories of trying to get essays done or studying for exams in some crazy places”.

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Katrina Hall had a university experience of a different kind when she enrolled in a Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Wollongong’s campus in Dubai.

The Sydneysider had lived in China for the previous six years, and decided to study in the United Arab Emirates after her mother relocated there for work.

The small campus had students from 80 different nationalities, and Islamic studies were compulsory.

“It was a real eye-opener, just to be working with all those different cultures,” says Hall.

There were certainly no pub crawls, and in a traditionally conservative Muslim country, Hall says she also had to be sensitive about assignment work. For example, it often wasn’t the done thing for a male student and a female to work alone together.

Hall says the university car park was starkly different to those in Australia.

“Student car parks in Australia are full of bomb cars. In Dubai every car in the car park is a BMW, a Mercedes, a Porsche. It’s out of control, there’s so much money over there.”

She says while living in Dubai was “brilliant,” she had sometimes wished she could pop back to Australia for a weekend or short holiday.

As for Chris Eigeland, his university adventures didn’t stop at Haiti. He went on to study while visiting East Timor, Hong Kong, Adelaide and China.

I would be doing essays from beach shacks in Thailand and Laos and exams in Barcelona … mostly on intermittent wifi

Juggling his various passions was hard work, but a good support network of friends and university staff proved a huge help.

Graduating with first class honours last December, Eigeland, now 23, believes that studying while being able to see the practical results and benefits made him highly motivated.

“My experiences while I was studying were just as valuable as the study itself,” he says.