Are Universities Set To Become A Thing Of The Past?

Go to school, go to college, and then go to university – the path has been set for many students for decades, but could things be about to change? Could the idea of going to university become a thing of the past? Laurence Brockliss, historian and author of a new official history of Oxford University believes it is “only a matter of time” until the traditional university becomes redundant. But how can this be, and what does it mean for students in the future?

Brockliss believes that online courses could threaten the very existence of institutions such as Oxford University, and unless they adapt to the changing times they could find themselves increasingly irrelevant in the modern world.

He argued, “I don’t think it’s a serious threat at the moment, but I could envisage 10 or 15 years down the road one of the newer universities developing online undergraduate degrees in a serious and creative way,” adding, “If that were to happen and if employers – and employers would determine the success or failure of this – were to feel that the quality of the education was as good as residential universities were giving, then that kind of initiative would really take off.”

Such online courses could surely be offered for less than the current £9,000 per year maximum tuition fee (and let’s face it, most universities are charging this maximum), thereby offering a financially viable alternative to physically ‘going to university.’

Instead of going to a university you would be able to study for your course online – attending lectures via video (or even watching them at a time that suited you better). Of course, there are already distance learning courses and degrees available, but to have these courses offered by established universities could change the game entirely.

Indeed, why limit ourselves to attending just one university? What if you could have access to lectures by the greatest tutors the world has to offer – regardless of where you live. This could revolutionise university study and is not perhaps as far away as you might imagine.

There are already a number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) available which are offered free online by the top universities in a wide range of subjects. These courses have seen the democratisation of study, allowing anyone with internet access the chance to learn from some of the greatest minds in the world. It is therefore not such a big step to imagine this model being used by universities in the future. Rather than living in the past, universities may be forced to adapt and change or else risk being made irrelevant.

For students this could really revolutionise the whole university experience. Rather than packing up your life and moving to another city, you could save money by staying at home while you study remotely, even fitting your study around work in a manner that the current system makes tricky. So, instead of having to go to university during the day, you could study in the evenings, helping you to supplement the cost of tuition. Plus, who’s to say that online learning wouldn’t be cheaper than residential courses?

Right now, this all seems a way off, but it may not be as far away as you imagine. For the student it is surely a good thing, with the possibility of flexible study, lower fees, and the chance to learn from the best tutors without having to leave your own town (or country!). Of course, for the universities themselves, it could prove trickier – and even a case of having to adapt or be pushed aside by the march of progress.

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