We will see increasingly creative partnerships between for-profit entities and traditional universities, writes Linda Lorimer, Vice-President of Yale University.
We often hear references to “the” future of the university. In fact, the WEF has a Global Agenda Council dedicated to the subject. But the members of our GAC identified early that there is no one destination or definition of the university of tomorrow—rather universities will have multiple futures and multiple identities. We will continue to benefit from a wide spectrum of institutions: those universities that are primarily teaching institutions; others that focus on vocational training; and a limited number that will be consequential research universities.
The members of our GAC —who gather from Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America –are united in the belief that internet and mobile technology will be a “force multiplier” – unharnessing the potential contributions of teachers far beyond the traditional classroom walls. Already, internet-based technology is fostering impressive pedagogical innovation, massively increasing access to university instructional materials and enabling growing numbers of students to pursue formal courses of study online. As one prominent example, the Virtual University of Monterrey Tec (Mexico) has a student body of over 145,000 and awards degrees in 16 master’s programs online and offers one internet-based Ph.D.
That much is clear. What is opaque is the resulting landscape for tertiary education. But here are some likely contours.
We will see increasingly creative partnerships between for-profit entities and traditional universities. They will erode the seeming chasm in recent decades between for-profit educational enterprises and traditional universities to create “win-win-win” scenarios: a win for the university’s promulgation of its educational programs, a win for the business objectives of the corporation—but most importantly, a win for new student populations that will access outstanding courses and educational content for the first time. Apple was in the vanguard of working with universities when they launched iTunes U. Coursera and 2U are just two of the most recent examples of for-profit companies that are working to collaborate—not compete—with traditional universities and their faculty.
We will inevitably see more porous geographic “boundaries” for a university. As just one example, a noted faculty member at Yale (USA) taught his course for credit last year from Beijing while conducting research. His “class” included students on the home Yale campus, but also students in Varanasi, India and Shanghai. Also, many countries eager to develop further their system of tertiary education may be able to avoid some of the capital intensive investments of building new “bricks and mortar” facilities by leap-frogging to online instruction that can be widely deployed across a country—or farther. Those of us who have had first-hand experiences with the magical opportunities of residential collegiate communities where education extends far outside the classroom should not be anxious about the continuing calling of our type of university, even as we can welcome new online “entrants”.
There will be universities that are losers: Those institutions currently offering courses that merely convey information to large non-interactive classes should be worried. Their students will be able to find instruction that is at least equal, if not superior, online.
Finally, there is the hope that online instruction—especially if it evolves to share the best of teaching freely around the globe—might mitigate “social warming” – the growing inequity between those with tertiary education and those with less. This would have the corollary benefit of renewing the essential links among education, employment, and societal advancement.
So many fascinating questions remain for exploration: What counts as excellence in online instruction? How might online education over time bring down the costs of education and extend its reach? How might existing universities collaborate more successfully among themselves? And with for-profit enterprises? How can online pedagogy positively influence the teaching environment on traditional campuses? And what positive role might we imagine for online instruction to play in transmitting cultural and humanistic values?
The Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Universities will be exploring these questions and more during the coming year. Write to Michele Petochi at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have ideas for the Universities of Tomorrow.
About the author: Linda Lorimer is Vice-President of Yale University and a Member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Universities.
Image: A students uses her computer at the Harvard University campus REUTERS/Brian Snyder