Posted by: crudbasher | December 14, 2012

7 Assumptions That Must Be True For Continued University Survival

Comet Airliner (H/T RAFMuseum)

Comet Airliner (H/T RAFMuseum)

I’ve been working in a university now for over 16 years. I love what I do and certainly don’t want to see anything bad happen to my situation. It certainly is possible that I will have another great 16 years and nothing really will change. If it was 1950 I would be fairly comfortable in that assumption. Oh sure, in 1950 things were changing, such as jet planes were coming along, but that change was slower than we have today. Also, most of the change was in the physical realm. Cars, and planes and such take time to infiltrate society.

Today we deal with change that is virtual and rapid with information technologies. The smartphones and computers we have are just platforms for this change, not the change itself. The costs of distribution are almost zero Not only that but everyone can be involved this time. In 1950 not everyone could create their own jet plane or car. Today, kids in middle school have apps in the App Store. Conclusion: there is a lot of change and it’s happening faster with every passing year. With that in mind, let’s look at 7 assumptions I think have to remain true for the university model to continue as it currently is.

  1. The perception of most people will still be that it is worth it to get into huge debt in order to get a university degree.
  2. The perception of most people will still be that the best way to get a university degree is by physically attending a college.
  3. The perception of most people will still be that if you want to learn something, you must go to a school.
  4. The students raised in the Internet age will still accept that the best way to learn is still mass lecturing.
  5. Businesses will continue to rely on a university degree as a signaling mechanism for employment.
  6. Despite many people’s effort and millions of dollars of investment, not a single person or organization will come up with an online system of learning that is a) as effective or more so than traditional college and b) cheap
  7. Opportunities for learning will remain scarce and expensive.

#7 is the critical one. It requires 100% failure of all online learning endeavors because in the Internet age, success is quickly copied. If in the 1950s everyone could make their own cars, then everyone would have had the best cars practically overnight. Traditional models of scarcity in learning are rapidly being stripped away.

I’m not saying that universities will go away, I’m saying that I think the current model with a campus, semesters, large classes, lectures, homework and a huge price tag will be a niche market in 20 years.

Naturally this is going out on a limb a bit, but writing a blog post about how everything will stay the same would be a bit boring. So, any thoughts? Where am I wrong?



  1. Great points. I remember going into university 12 years ago and listening to my high school teachers tell me it’s not what I will learn in university which will be important to my career; rather it’ll be the piece of paper you get at the end of it which shows you have the ability to put up with all of it. So I went to university, spent a small fortune (which I’m still paying off) on tuition and residence so I could go look for a job and tell the good people hiring me that they could hire me not only because they liked me, but also because I have a degree.

    It also makes me wonder if getting such an expensive education in North America is that much better than getting a much cheaper education in other parts of the world, say, the Philippines. I know many of the people that come out of those schools are really hard workers and they have the knowledge to pass Western qualification tests to be doctors, pharmacists or nurses, but they’re only paying a fraction of what is paid in the West to go to school. Is it because we pay so much money for school, we have the better education?

  2. […] there are 7 assumptions about the future of HE and University in Education […]

  3. […] in mind this is not about facts or figures, it is about perception. If this changes, then one of my 7 Assumptions That Must Be True For Continued University Survival is no longer […]

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