You are here: Home Knowledge Base Economy Redefining Universities Solutions Governments, higher-education institutions and scholarship providers need to experiment with new funding models for higher education to give access to quality education to students who can pay little or nothing—for ...
Symposium 2012

Solution for Redefining Universities

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).

Governments, higher-education institutions and scholarship providers need to experiment with new funding models for higher education to give access to quality education to students who can pay little or nothing—for example, by charging for certification, examination processing, learning support or online internships, rather than for content and its delivery.

What used to be expensive in higher education was content and delivery. Using technology and open educational resources now makes it possible to deliver much content at very low cost or even free. This means that much of higher education can be scaled up to a far greater degree than before. An example of scaling higher education, while retaining small class sizes, is a tuition-free model in which there is no charge for tuition, and only an examination processing fee at the end of each course—one nonprofit university has already deployed this structure.

At present, classrooms tend to have teachers spending 80% of their time on reciting standard knowledge and only 20% on individualized support for students. This proportion needs to be reversed, so that higher education can be scaled up cost-effectively and scarce resources used much better. In economic terms, this means that the value added of higher education (and the charges) may move from content and its delivery to certification, learning support or individual matching with labor market demand. There is great potential for innovative models that make higher education available to students who previously would never have been able to afford it.

Many MOOCs ("massive open online course") are currently provided completely free, with the hope that it will ultimately make money for the institution by putting Silicon Valley companies in touch with the very top scorers in the end-of-course test.

The glut of PhDs who are unlikely ever to get tenure could be better (more cost-effectively and more personally satisfying) employed as learning guides alongside online modularized courses, rather than finding themselves running from institution to institution delivering and marking “101” courses.

Students already create a great deal of the value in traditional models of education, via peer support and classroom interaction. This could be made explicit, for example, by charging less or nothing for students who are valuable contributors in online discussion forums.

Governments, companies or nonprofits could consider committing to buying block access for large groups to online courses that reach predefined standards of quality and usefulness, thus spurring innovation. (Similar ideas for vaccines and new treatments for diseases that predominantly affect people in poor countries have gained widespread support.) An education credit system much like the carbon credit system could be created, whereby the governments will place greater, tradable value on online education resources, which because of few capacity constraints are not valued sufficiently and, therefore, not marketed effectively. By creating artificial scarcity and tradable value, global online learning platforms will be more meaningful for students and for institutions.

Bridging the academia-industry gap at a massive scale could be achieved through online internships as not all students have the ability to get an internship opportunity and not all companies are willing to hire interns but the same companies may be willing to support online internship programs.

But ways must be found to ensure that students who are paying nothing (the most that many of those wanting higher education can afford) still value their education and invest emotionally in it. There is a danger that” free” can mean "worthless." It is vital to ensure that such students still have "skin in the game."

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