Reinventing higher education

Imants Latkovskis & Claire Diamond

A leading think-tank has published a report suggesting that a radical overhaul of higher education is required to prevent the death of the university as we know it.

The Institute for Public Policy Research, a UK based think-tank, claims that traditional models of higher education are no longer fit for purpose, prompting a former Downing Street adviser to admit that it wouldn’t be surprising if some middle-ranking universities were to close within the next decade.

The report suggests that the rapid growth of technology and British universities failing to keep up with their Asian and American counterparts by adapting in a changing landscape, specifically by not providing enough online courses.

The rising cost of tuition at a leading institution above inflation, and student finance for England failing to keep up with the rate of inflation means students are poorer when they are at university and poorer when they leave, due to mounting student debt.

Entering a jobs market where graduate level jobs are scarce and a degree is, for most jobs, no less than expected, has led leading think-tanks to call for reform of the university system in the UK before it is too late.

Where universities are failing to deliver, online service providers are stepping in to fulfill the gap in the market. Coursera, an online service that allows to access free academic courses, is just one example; the company is in partnership with a number of top US universities and currently boasts 3 million members worldwide. The site had teamed up with 33 institutions to offer free online courses for anyone to take, include the University of Edinburgh.

With private companies vying for the business of universities, competition for students is fierce. Along with think-tanks and several other specialist organisations, new actors are reportedly breaking down the universities’ monopoly over awarding degrees and carrying out research.

The Thiel Fellowship offers young people $100,000 and guidance to leave universities and pursue various projects, such as scientific research or social movements.