Australia's universities are not threatened by the "avalanche" of digital learning alternatives headed their way, according to executives from across the country.
The increasing trend towards Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other digital learning alternatives threatens the business model of traditional campus-based universities, according to international academic Saad Rizvi.
But university executives, yesterday coming together at a conference in Sydney, put forward their case for the future of traditional models of higher education.
“I’m not worried in the short term that we are going to see an exodus from the market,” said Alec Cameron, deputy vice chancellor at the University of Western Australia at the unbundling education services conference.
He told iTnews his confidence rested on the vital function that university brand and reputation plays in the job selection process, as an early filter for the quality of candidates.
“There is almost an outsourcing of the recruitment process,” he said. “If a student is good enough to get into a particular institution employers immediately know that its in-built selection process and screening indicates that the candidate has reached a certain threshold.”
Processes that are hard or impossible to replicate on the scale of a MOOC, like detailed assessment and entry criteria, are core to protecting these markers of quality, Cameron said.
“The argument could be made that the greatest value you will ever get from Harvard or Oxford is receiving the letter admitting you to the institution.
“If you are the president of Harvard and you’ve got one of the most exclusive higher education brands in the world are you suddenly going to recognise hundreds of thousands of students doing an online course as graduates? Over the dead bodies of your alumni I think."
He said a high quality assessment process is "the way that universities apply quality assurance to the credential awarded to their students”.
The argument was echoed by Boston Consulting Group’s Peter Goss, who confirmed that a university degree remained a prerequisite for entry into the firm’s recruitment program.
“It shows you can succeed through some really hard coursework and it shows that you have persistence,” he said.
Both Arun Sharma from the Queensland University of Technology and Pip Pattison from the University of Melbourne also lent their voices in support of the unique offerings of a bricks and mortar campus, highlighting the networking opportunities and support services they offer.
Cameron did however concede that enrolments in MOOCs would proliferate over coming years, but said they would likely forge new education markets rather than competing with universities for school leavers.
“What I think we will see is a much greater level of participation in higher education overall and a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise take part in higher education will be coming in via these new modes and new forms," he said.
“I expect that we will see a decline in the percentage of students that are pursuing further education in the traditional form. What I don’t expect is a shift in the actual number of students pursuing this traditional form of education, which will continue to grow,” he said.