A new model

Faith in so many of our major institutions has been shaken tremendously over the past two decades.

Our political system, organized religion and the financial industry, among others, have been under attack and their reliability placed into question.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the post-secondary institutions – the colleges and universities.

This is spelling trouble for higher education in general. Some have gone so far as predicting the demise of some of these institutions. However, just as television did not destroy the motion picture industry, and the internet did not demolish book publishers, changes can actually expand the post-secondary sector, assuming that the requisite reforms are forthcoming.

The major universities, notably in the United States, have been engaged in raising huge sums to finance the expansion of their physical plant. Furthermore, endowment funds have been invested in speculative enterprises, resulting in losses of up to 50 per cent in the past few years. This has weakened their ability to help students to meet their expenses. As a concomitant, the annual charges for students have soared to astronomic levels, leaving graduates with very burdensome debts.

It should come as no surprise that in the past 20 years the price for attending universities has more than tripled, compared to an increase of all other items approaching 40 per cent.

Not only are financial changes needed, but the entire system requires an overhaul. For example, at the University of Toronto or Queens University, some lectures are attended by 1,000 students with standing room only.

University teaching methods with an excessive reliance on teaching assistants should diminish. The century-old paths of universities will be overwhelmed by technology. That will alter the teaching structure.

Massive, open, online courses mean information technology will make the current business model antiquated. More and more students and resources are participating online in this new approach to education.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are providing financial backing. About $60 million has been donated to a group of students that offer online courses. Unfortunately, Oxford and Cambridge did not join this project.

Beginning last summer Coursera, a social entrepreneurship company, offered free online courses to 80 universities and organizations. It has advanced $65 million in venture capital to pay for that. Enrolments have grown to more than four million students.

Here in Canada York University is working with business technology and has generated amazing results.

Online education gradually is making existing teaching methods obsolete. Clearly, it is “the wave of the future.”



Bruce Whitestone