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Symposium 2012

Proposal - Quality Degree-Granting University, Tuition-Free, Modeling the Present and Future of Educational Reform

The Challenge

There are two big trends in higher education: "individualization" and "massification." The former is important mainly in developed countries whereas the latter takes places mainly in developing countr ...

There are two big trends in higher education: "individualization" and "massification." The former is important mainly in developed countries whereas the latter takes places mainly in developing countries. Yet distinctions between the systems of developed and developing countries cannot be sharply drawn: on the one hand, outstanding students from developing countries want individualized education; and on the other hand, aspiring students from developed countries want good value for money (which means massification).

The timing couldn’t be better for the massification of higher education to happen. Massification is happening with educational resources freely available online, yet what if we can combine the concept of this with formal structure, small classroom sizes, academic oversight and proctoring to culminate in the attainment of accreditation – and do it all tuition-free? We are heading into a time of great demand, with powerful technological tools to wield to create lasting reform in education. With the concept of combining Open Educational Resources, open source technology, peer to peer learning, and the assistance of volunteers - a model utilized by the non-profit, online, tuition-free University of the People (UoPeople) - what used to be only for the wealthy, is now accessible as a right for all. Indeed, what once was a pipe dream in education has become a reality. With the model of UoPeople, students aren’t learning alongside millions; they are in online classrooms of 20-30 students, all hailing from other classes, and each receiving individualized attention. They are also not just learning for learning sake; on the contrary, they are attaining quality education and graduating with formal academic degrees.

According to UNESCO, the growth of youth populations worldwide mean that by the year 2025, an estimated 98 million youth will be pining for seats in Universities that don’t exist. (2009 World Conference on Higher Education). If governments and universities alike around the world don’t change educational structuring to allow the provision of quality education that is capable of servicing the masses in need, a tsunami of an education deficit will occur as these almost 100 million young adults remain uneducated. The ripple effects of so many undirected and wasted energies can devastate local and global economies.

In spite of the need, many in developed countries (which host some of the best research universities in the world) will undoubtedly read the massification of higher education combined with formal academic degrees and feel compelled to initially react with fear. Is higher education a commodity of which opening access to it via online, tuition-free learning will result in the decline of traditional universities? The answer is not at all. Opening access to higher education to serve everyone in need by making it affordable to even the poorest will merely only allow everyone to attain education. This should be the goal. Those that can afford brick and mortar research institutions will continue to go to them. Those that cannot afford traditional higher education, finally now have an option to turn to – and this is the change that I speak of with tuition-free massification.

With this accomplishment, everyone and anyone can learn in order to continue on in the pursuit of his or her academic, business, science, or other ambitions. People can possibly have a better future because they were able to have the chance to graduate with in-demand degrees of Business Administration and Computer Science. As part of the process, they also opened their minds to global happenings, diversity and other ways of thinking via the diverse classrooms of UoPeople – resulting in better cultural understanding and communication. The university has students accepted from over 130 countries, of which a typical classroom will have 20-30 students studying alongside students from 20-30 other countries - allowing for heightened exposure to diversity. Incidentally, something so diverse could only be accomplished via online learning which knows no, nor is restricted by, any geographic boundaries.

University of the People is not only servicing those individuals otherwise constrained from attaining higher education, but even more important, it is building a model for governments and universities worldwide to emulate in order to educate even greater numbers of individuals in need. Today's amalgamation of dropping technology costs and Open Educational Resources have allowed quality educational delivery to cost a fraction of its traditional costs. Adding in the principles of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning, coupled with open-source technology and the full use of the aforementioned Open Educational Resources, cumulates in a tuition-free quality education for all. This is a model, which is not designed to be a secret. The true massification of higher education requires the involvement of governments and universities around the world to emulate this scalable and replicable solution. Some universities will adopt parts, or possibly even this entire model. Others may not. However, the option exists to explore this model and change education for the world as we know it today.

If we educate one, we can change a life. But if we educate many, we can change the world.

Together, we can open the doors to all those who were constrained from attending higher education and reaching their dreams. Imagine the celebration of the future where every single person on this planet, no matter their economic circumstances, will have the ability to access quality higher education with ease-- we will have truly unleashed our global human potential.

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