I have had many interesting debates lately, first with Seb, then with Yuhong Yan, about the future of universities. The debate is interesting to me because I’m back as a professor after spending two years in a government lab. Hence, I’m concerned about the future of universities…
What comes out of my recent discussions:
- Universities, right now, still survive because they are political beasts. Most (canadian) universties would have to close down if the government killed its support.
- (Canadian) governments have less, and less money to put in education. Thus, it is unrealistic to see more money going to universities.
Now, by itself, this only means that I expect universities not to gain any funding in the coming years… However, one can worry about a few things…
- Progressively, the value of a degree has gone down. I think it has gone down in quality and also in value on the job market.
- New graduates face a tougher and tougher job market.
What will happen next? Will universities thrive because students will need badly more and more degrees? Or will the race come to a stop… and new forms of training will arise?
Here’s a theory… universities did well before Gutenberg because books were so incredibly valuable and so, any community which had books was well off. Then Gutenberg came about. Well, books were still very expensive, so universities still did well because they allowed students to attend lectures and take notes.
Then, books became cheaper and cheaper. Knowledge became easier to get to without teachers. I’d say this happened some time ago. Maybe at the beginning of the century…
Why did universities survive past this point? I think because they offered communities. Young, smart people could come together and ideas would just be transmitted like diseases. It was far more efficient than, say, using mail. Universities provide the people and the proximity.
I’d say, most universities still provide this… and they suggest books…
However, to a large extend, so does the Internet. Well, not quite.. email, for example, is not as efficient as meeting face to face…
So, I think we need broadband. Real broadband, without technical glitches. Then, at this point, I predict that universities will be obselete.
When is that? 5 or 10 or 15 years.
What do you think? Will there be strong, thriving universities in 20 years?
Update: Critical Learning suggests that universities as gateway to knowledge can’t compete against the Internet, but the Internet doesn’t provide authentification for the knowledge we acquire. The Internet doesn’t, by itself, grant degrees. So, I ask, are universities the best form of institutions to authenticate knowledge? Is that what it comes down to?