As more and more universities offer their courses for free online, those that choose not to risk being left behind, and missing out on the opportunity to develop a more innovative – and future-proof – approach to higher education, Don Nutbeam, vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, said.
Speaking at the Universities UK Open and Online Learning conference in London yesterday, he posed the question: “If university content is available for free, why would anyone pay £9,000 plus per year for a university education? If university content can be delivered where and when people want it who will ever turn up for lectures again?”
He said the conclusion was “obvious”, adding: “It’s Mooc or die. More to the point, do it quickly.”
According to Professor Nutbeam, “smart universities will embrace the Mooc movement”, using them to develop innovations in teaching and learning.
“I don’t think it is the end of the campus,” he said, “[but] I do sincerely believe that Moocs and the technology they foster can liberate students and our academic community from the traditional lecture.”
He said students were uninspired by the idea of sitting with 400 others in a lecture theatre, and listening “at a distance”. This experience could easily be replaced by online learning, he said.
“What students place high value on is high quality, interactive contact time with the academic community,” he continued. “Time that enables them to develop…transferable skills such as the ability to work as part of a team, to solve problems working with other [and] the ability to communicate publicly effectively. These are things that are not easily going to be replaced by Moocs.”
Open University vice-chancellor Martin Bean told the conference that if universities ignored Moocs, they would, potentially, be bypassing a huge opportunity to market themselves internationally.
“When 18 of the top 20 ranked US universities last year started Mooc-ing, it created this moment…where suddenly we had this tipping, and the world will never be the same again,” he said.
“[Potential students are asking]: ‘I can get online and try out US universities for free, why can’t I try out British universities?’ If we don’t think that opening up these digital storefronts…is going to be the way of the future then we are sadly mistaken.”