7 Replies to “Bill Gates Predicts Technology Will Make ‘Place-Based’ Colleges Less Important in 5 Years”

  1. I said 10 years ago that brick and mortar colleges could be substantially replaced by the interent, and gave it 30 years.

    After that, high schools will go the same way.

    Hang on to your hats, this won’t all be fun and games.

  2. What’s to happen to all those academics who disdain teaching undergrads? Leaving it, nowadays, to their graduate assistants? They may still be employed, for something, but their salaries certainly are going to take a dive.

  3. In all honesty I do not know why KCL is more expensive. There is one issue currently here in the UK that is having an impact on undergraduate degree and that is top-up fees. Until a couple of years ago degrees here cost a standard amount of which the government paid at least ¾ of the cost with the final cost being means tested. However, under our last government top-up fees were introduced where institutions could add a cost onto a degree, usually about £3000. This has led to significant change in institutions attitudes towards money i.e. HE in UK was chronically underfunded by Labour. This has led to some of the better known universities to play on their names and charge more money. Perhaps this has fed in the postgrad arena too. I am not sure.

    Another aspect is KCL’s position within out military education system. They supply the academic staff for the JSCSC and at RAF Cranwell. To be honest they have cornered the market in this aspect, partly due to their reputation as the originators of War Studies in the 60’s. Their e-learning courses are assiduously marketed at this military market. Take for example the RAF Fellowship scheme. These are a series of fellowships awarded to serving officers to undertake academic study. The relevant one here is the Dowding Fellowship that enables students to study on the KCL course. However, as far I am aware officers can not apply to for this fellowship if they want to do the Birmingham course. Therefore, there exists a disparate position between the two institutions offering the only courses on this subject in the UK, and possibly the world. KCL also offers a reduced fee to serving personal and civil servants at the MoD. Perhaps the situation will change in time. I suspect they may have too.

    The NYU initiative seems interesting. I wonder how the Open University here in the UK will adapt and use this technology. They have been for many years the UK’s leading proponents of distance learning.

  4. Rene,

    I agree it is possible but I wonder whether or not it will reduce course. Just to compare two MA programs here in the UK, one web based and one resisdential based. Both are part-time courses about air power.

    The University of Birmingham offer an MA in Air Power Studies. It is taught part-time through Saturday schools. Its fees are £2250 per year.

    In comparison Kings College London offers and MA in Air Power and the Modern World which is taught through e-learning. Its fees are £7560 per year. This is nearly three times the cost of the Birmingham course. Does it offer an better expertise? I don’t think so. Ok I am bit biased because of my affiliation with Birmingham but I do not see how KCL can justify this cost. It is a compelling idea but I can’t see it reducing cost.

    1. Ross,
      You bring up a great point on costs and one that will be important to tackle if Bill’s vision is to become a reality. I’m curious to understand the differences in charges between the two examples you cite. Are they, for example, truly cost-based (reflective of all of the costs required to deliver the program), subsidized in any way (private versus government), or driven by perceived market value? Assuming for a moment that the King’s College program can be completed virtually, (you’ll be more familiar than me) then do they perhaps spend more money marketing their program than Birmingham? That could obviously introduce costs that are not related to the expertise of the professors. The question of market value introduces all kinds of variables made all the more complicated when courses truly become accessible globally.

      These are fascinating issues that will need to be tackled if the vision introduced by Mr. Gates is to become a reality. The potential exists for a leveling of the playing field between perceived institution rankings. What also seems clear to me is that institutions that choose to function only in the realm of brick-and-mortar will considerably limit their potential student base.

      Did you see the recent news about NYU’s approach? http://www.nyu.edu/academics/open-education.html My understanding is that they plan to deliver standard lectures via video in order to free of the professor’s time to be more involved with students. This would allow courses to be made available globally with traditional “sections” manned by local teaching assistants in prescribed areas. The professor might actually travel to a section in France and other countries to spend small group time or even one-on-one time with students because he/she would have the time to do so. Also interesting is the University of the People, an experiment in a completely tuition free university. That Yale University is sharing resources with the latter is fascinating.


  5. Interesting. While I agree that ‘virtual’ courses will become more important, especially for masters and mature students, I do not think they will replace attendence based courses for undergrads. KCL here in the UK already run a popular web-based MA. The ‘party’ aspect is an important element for many students for whom it is there first time away from home and it is useful for their personal development. We already have enough problems with communication skills because of the so-called information revolution. Interpersonal skills can only be developed by interaction with people. Much is lost in translation across the web.

    1. Hey Ross,
      You bring up a good point. There is an important socialization/maturation element to “going away to school” for undergrads. I believe some great studies have been done that also showed that students who stay home and go to community college are not viewed by their parents as really having left high school so totally get where you’re going. I think Bill’s point was that there are many, many students in the world who will never be able to afford going to a residential college nor begin to have access to some of our top educators. Remove those barriers through the internet and a $200,000 education becomes available to the masses at $2,000. Lot’s of details would have to be worked out but it’s a compelling idea and think of the opportunity to transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.


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