The End of Universities

Ruin lecture hallThere has been an increasing interest for massive open online courses, or so called MOOCs. They enable people all over the world to enjoy previously inaccessible levels of higher education. Registration is free; everything you need is an internet connection and e-mail address. Upon successfully completing a course a certificate is awarded. Does the growth in MOOCs indicate a revolution in higher education?

College fees

A significant rise in costs of US-education has occurred in recent decades. These costs have increased with a multifold of the inflation rate and tuition has risen from 23% of median annual earnings in 2001 to 38% in 2010 (The Economist, 2012). Student debt has risen to $1 trillion and universities are trying to attract the best and brightest – professors and students alike – with financing their investments by ever increasing debt. With governments cutting down on education budgets the situation seems unsustainable. Are students willing to bear these increasing costs of a degree, an investment with an ever decreasing ROI?

MOOCs might give the answer as the developments as stated above provide a fruitful environment for the innovation in online education, often referred to as disruptive (Forbes, New York Times, Wired). Online platforms such as Coursera or edX give access to courses ranging from physics to business strategy, provided by top institutions such as Oxford, Harvard and MIT. These established names are on board because they recognize the importance of the new development in education. Three characteristics are fundamental to MOOCs. The online platform enables a scale at which classes can be taught which is impossible in the conventional ‘Socratic’ education system. Furthermore, students are able to tailor programs to their needs by selecting specific courses creating a unique curriculum. This customization can include courses of multiple universities which means a shift of bargaining power to the student. Lastly, MOOCs create an environment for continuous learning in a facilitated network. It becomes easier to combine studying with working creating more demand for just-in-time, on the job courses (Wired, 2013).

The developments of MOOCs facilitating easy accessible, customizable and continuous learning opportunities will have its impact on the education system. The only obstacle is the recognition of the obtained certificates by employers. It will take some time but classes as we know them will become a relic of the past.


2 responses to “The End of Universities”

  1. yswdejong says :

    I think stating that classes as we know them will become a relic of the past might be an exaggeration. Yes it is true that the financial situation in academia in the United States is extreme, but that is the situation for the USA, this is not necessarily true or may even be entirely untrue for the rest of the world.
    Secondly, part of the value of your diploma is the name of the institution, diplomas from institutions who provide an education through completely online courses (like the university of Phoenix) are perceived as less valuable than their brick-and-mortar based counterparts. Lastly, part of the education in universities is social and gained through interacting with other students and teachers, which might be more difficult when mediated through information technology. This social part is also I think part of the overall student experience, something students are looking for.

    I agree with you that the way universities work and teach will change and I think MOOCs will be a part of that, maybe especially in developing countries, but I don’t think they will change the ‘western’ education system in the short term.

  2. 357132mh says :

    Great topic. While I agree that there will be a huge shift in the education system, I think that rather than become a “relic of the past”, they will continue to be a privilege for the rich, while continuing to exclude the poor. Which is where online university platforms come in.

    Another great example I’d like to share in addition to the ones you’ve already mentioned is the University of the People. Founded by Shai Reshef, this is a non-profit, tuition free online university, which specializes in offering only two 4-year programs, namely Business Administration and Computer Science, the two most asked for degrees in today’s market. The courses are put together by academics and professors from renowned higher education institution s from around the world. Students enroll in classes of between 20 to 30 people in which learning is largely based on peer-to-peer learning, in the form of interactive group discussions, as well as, of course, individual assignments. Having so few people in a “classroom”, coordinators have a better overview of individual students, and can focus their attention on those who may need help. This is advantageous as compared to the larger scale online schools, where it may be the case that too many students enrolled in a course make it difficult, if not impossible, to allow for this individual help. Learning materials become available every week at the UoE and at the end of a course there is an exam, after which, if they pass, they can move on to the next class.

    Where this differs from other online universities, apart from offering only two courses, is that there are costs for the exam. Each student must pay $100 per exam, which comes to $4000 for an entire degree. To those that still can’t afford this, scholarships are also offered. In this way however, students receive a legitimate, recognized degree in either one of the courses chosen, which solves the problem about certificates not being recognized by employers.

    Check out Reshef’s Ted Talk about this at

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