As technology expands access worldwide, online institutions, open-source classrooms and virtual campuses will rise up and compete with traditional higher learning structures.
This is according to findings by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), in its Higher education in the 21st century report.
The report surveyed 317 higher education practitioners from North America, Western Europe and Asia Pacific, investigating the evolution of technology in higher education within a shifting financial climate.
The report found that traditional structures were facing a tough time: tuition fees in traditional institutions are increasing, particularly in the US and UK, while public funding and government subsidies are decreasing.
“Enrolment is also declining as sceptical students weigh the price of a degree against their odds of employment after graduation,” EIU said.
However, despite this, the report found that an “expanding global middle class” with growing young adult populations is driving an increasing demand for higher education across the globe.
In order to plug their dropping enrolment figures, and to take advantage of the booming global market, 33% of institutiones surveyed by the EIU indicated a move to recruit more foreign students.
Further, 51% of institutions indicated considering expanding abroad through physical campuses, online presences or other means.
“Today’s institutions of higher learning have high hopes for technology-based delivery of instruction,” EIU said.
“Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have both supporters and detractors, but 61% of survey respondents say that they believe online and distance courses will have the greatest effect on how higher education is delivered in the next five years.”
Supporters of MOOCs highlight benefits such as courses being free and available to anyone with no need for lecture halls, textbooks or teaching assistants.
However, detractors criticise the method over fears of weakening or watering down of education after centuries of progress and question the long-term economic sustainability of the new model.
Nevertheless, the report’s findings make a clear statement: “Technology is altering the playing field.”
“Deployed properly in the right circumstances, online learning can help colleges and universities stay relevant in an increasingly technology-based world, expand their markets globally and streamline business models without building new classrooms and dormitories.”