About to participate in a panel at the Global Competitiveness Forum 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to discuss how to “reboot education”. Here are some of my thoughts in rather raw format:
1. The challenges and opportunities facing higher education are far too great to be left in the hands of academics alone.
Some estimates anticipate that the number of university students in the world will increase by 62 million in the next 15 years. That is a staggering 4.13 million new students per year. If we tried to satisfy that demand by building large traditional universities (of say 40K students apiece) we would need about 100 new universities per year, or one every three days (each by the way would require at least 500 new faculty members). The stakes, meanwhile, are pretty high, as economic competitiveness continues to increase the demand for high value-adding jobs and those who can’t provide decent education risk being left behind.
Academics for the most part have failed to change a system which is not radically different from the early European universities 1,000 years ago (Univ. of Bologna est. 1088). If not them, then who?
2.- Innovators, entrepreneurs are needed… in droves
The magnitude of the challenge requires that we rethink technologies, educational paradigms and business models. Governments won’t lead the charge. If anything, they may make the process more challenging by decreasing funding at the worst possible time (the State of Arizona has decreased its per-student appropriation from about $9K to $5K in four years). The private sector will need to grow beyond its current size and in spite of the regulatory issues they have faced in the last couple of years. The University of Phoenix serves 400K+ students. No public university comes close. There’s plenty of opportunity for social entrepreneurs too. Western Governors University has grown in just over 10 years from start up to 20K students (with no classrooms or professor in the traditional sense!). Traditional players like Thunderbird are ideally suited to experiment with hybrid approaches bringing together a mix of solutions.
3. On-line works
In fact it works better than traditional if used appropriately. And it’s only going to get better. Our experience with the Global MBA On Demand shows how the right blend of online (in our case collaborative, high touch) and residential modules can not only better serve the needs of an increasing market of technology-savvy, highly mobile, non traditional working professionals, but it can actually deliver exceptionally high rates of student learning outcomes and satisfaction.
The Kauffman Foundation just launched its first Kauffman Lab for Education Ventures with the intent to help catalyze some new models. The first 25 aspiring entrepreneurs are working on projects ranging from blending social networks in learning platforms, to exploiting the power of games, ot improving assessment and retention. None of these innovations would be possible without technology.