An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead

Posted by Hugh on January 10, 2014 in Annotated, Professional Development, Reflection, Trends in eLearning |

Barber M., Donnelly K., Rizvi S. (2013), An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead,


Author(s):  Michael BarberKatelyn DonnellySaad Rizvi

Published date:  11 Mar 2013

Source http://www.ippr.org/images/media/files/publication/2013/04/avalanche-is-coming_Mar2013_10432.pdf

What I got out of the article was as follows:

Globalisation and Technology is fuelling change

The ubiquity of data, proliferation of the internet and mobile connectivity are making the world an increasingly smaller place. Anyone can search for a course online, see the content and even see what current or past students thought of the course. The more information there is in the market place the tougher the competition.

Students are no longer geographically bound either, they can weigh up the merits of Universities all over the world and may choose one on a different continent. There may be political barriers such as visa and work permit, however the internet also provides a great deal of information on how to overcome these barriers as well.

High Education is failing students and the labour market

The article proposes that third level education is failing both students and the labour as it does not give them the desired skill set to function in the workplace. Employers find it hard to fill entry level or menial jobs at times of high unemployment, conversely graduate find it hard to get employment. I believe that if someone goes studies for four years and obtains a degree that they will look for employment above entry level as their degree should give them a boost up the ladder. Not a lot of graduates, in my opinion, would be willing to start at the bottom and work their way up, however this is how it should happen.

Curricula needs to be changed so that graduates are ready for the employment market. There will always be the elite few who will be able to dictate terms and conditions from an employer but the majority will need to take what is available.  As little as 10 years ago a degree was prestigious, however today it is seen as the norm and is required as a starting point. Third level institution may need to tailor their courses so that students get real life experiences while studying to prepare them for the labour market. It should be emphasised that started at the bottom and working up allows them to see the structure of an organisation from the roots up. When they get in the door they will be able to show their value to the organisations and graduates will probably rise up the corporate ladder quicker than those who do not have a third level qualification.

Students are combining work with study

The traditional model of leaving second level education, going to college for four years and then entering the labour market is being challenged. Students are getting older and combining work with studies. Students on three or four year programmes are increasingly working while studying so they can afford college. Others are taking up full time employment and returning to education as a mature student. As students work they gain additional life experiences that will reflect in their college experience and will be able to bring more value to their learning.

As a mature student I believe that this is correct. I left school at 16 and went to work. In my current job there was a need for a third level qualification if I was to be promoted so I returned to education as a mature student. It is a difficult balancing act or work, family and study but I am enjoying the experience. I believe I have made significant contribution to discussions and receive invaluable information from the course and other student, these experiences are drawn from real life examples.

I do not believe the three/four year model is under threat as 18 year old school leavers are expected to go to college and get a degree before entering the labour market. However more flexible under and post graduate are required for the mature student to study while also working. MOOC could play an important role in this, however the campus experience is also very valuable.

Some students are skipping college altogether

As stated above I do not believe the three/four model of third level education is under threat. However the elite of the student populous are being skimmed off before they even go to University. Fellowships, such as Thiel and [E]nstitute as mentioned in the article, are giving the brightest school leavers the opportunity work in environments where they have access to mentors, finance and learn from the experiences of others. Some companies offer internships, accelerated programmes or apprenticeships allowing someone to work from the bottom up. Entrepreneur programmes allows an individual to set up their own companies by providing seed capital. The philosophy is that even if they fail they will have gained a valuable life experience not available on a college campus.

Access to this type of learning allows school leavers to earn while they learn, gain relevant experience and build a network of professional contacts. The Department of Social Protection introduced a scheme in 2011 called JobBridge to allow companies to employ Job Seekers as interns. Entrepreneurships in my opinion are very important as that style of person would probably not settle into college life, they are always striving for the next big thing. Famous entrepreneurs that did not go to or finish college include Steve Jobs (Apple), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell Computers, Richard Branson (Virgin) and Simon Cowell (Television). These would be self started, get up and go types who are always questioned why thing are done.

Content and information is ubiquitous on the internet

As information becomes more freely available over the internet Universities have to adapt to suit it. Once only big university had the finance and the physical resources to hold large amounts of data, normally written in book, papers and journals. These were large buildings with well organised sections with shelf after shelf of literature. However with the internet that structure can be replicated digitally and stored on computer hard drives that can be recalled when needed. As the demand for information increases then more and more providers will be available online.

When I started my degree course in 2006 I would have relied on the library to search books and journals, even online, for the information. However as the University library now has access to so many online journals and electronic books I can sit anywhere on my laptop and get the information I require. I still use the library as a quiet place to escape the demands of everyday life though.

Value of a degree is falling

As stated above the norm today is that school leaver must go to college and get a degree before they join the work force. In the article the authors argue that due to this type situation the value of a degree is decreasing generally. There will always be extra value for studying at certain colleges such as Harvard, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or Oxford. This also has a knock on effect in post graduate education as well, for example someone with a degree today may want to do a Masters so they are a step ahead of the posse. However this means that more people are graduating with a Post Graduate qualification devaluing that level also.

When I was in school, many years ago!!, anyone that went to University and got a degree was really intelligent, very few actually managed it. However today it is expected student acquire a third level qualification. I agree with the authors that the value of a degree has decreased in recent times.

Incumbents will always have the power

The articles states that the incumbents have advantages – not least endowments, famous alumni and active alumni committed to ensuring that their alma mater’s reputation. The regulatory regimes in many countries still reflect the model of the traditional university and are stacked in favour of incumbents and against newcomers. A degree from Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge or MIT have influence in themselves and this can not be replicated.

However new Universities bucking the tradition trends of large student body, large well regarded faculty and bigger buildings are getting a foot hold. The results of these changes are improved quality, increased student numbers and lower cost. As the article states historically in any market, competitors who achieve these outcomes soon overcome complacent incumbents.

I believe that if the incumbents do not embrace the changes brought about by the digital revolution they will loose ground. Evidence is showing that larger Universities are changing, for example the provision of MOOCs is growing with Udacity, Coursera and edX all being affiliated to large universities. The UK Open University is also changings it business model to survive. It is my believe that the incumbents have rode the waves of change on many occation and have survived for so long because they can adapt to change.

Five models for the future

The article states that to survive institution will have to change to one of the following models:

1. Elite

Set up for the elite students and offer incentive for them to join. Currently Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford.

2. Mass

Turn out courses for 1000’s of students to keep the cost down.

3. Niche (include research)

Find a niche market, such as financial, engineering, law or research and only offer those courses.

4. Local

The prosperity of town can be enhanced with a good university so working closley with local civic leaders could be beneficial.

5. Life long learning

 Keep a database of who has learnt what and recall at anytime. this model in not geographically tied so can be moved around as required.


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