Internet mentors could supplant traditional lecturers

Horizon Scanning study points to a ‘new kind of pedagogy’ in higher education by 2020

September 26, 2013

Traditional lecturers may soon be replaced by networks of online mentors working for several universities, a new study predicts.

In the report, titled Horizon Scanning: What will higher education look like in 2020?, the Observatory on Borderless Education suggests that academic staff are likely to be employed part-time by several universities – often working remotely via the internet – rather than relying on a single employer.

“Changes in job structures may come with the embrace of the online revolution,” says the report, due to be published on 25 September, which is based on interviews with senior academics and university leaders.

“Junior lecturers may be gradually replaced by mentors, scattered around the world and with only a loose connection with their employers,” says the report.

“More senior academics might have multiple contracts with several higher education institutions,” it suggests.

Commissioned by Universities UK’s International Unit and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the report highlights the partnership between the University of Warwick and Monash University, in Melbourne, Australia, as a potential guide to future employment practices.

With one undergraduate module, Forms of Identity, already taught via video conferencing to students at both institutions, the alliance “may be pointing the way to a new kind of pedagogy”, the report says.

“Undergraduate lectures, for example, may be delivered simultaneously to any number of participating institutions, either across a whole sector or indeed across borders,” it states.

The report notes that “management models will have to adjust to these changes” and implementing them “will require the type of business acumen seen in industries that have adapted to the disruption already”.

University leaders may also risk a backlash from staff if they try to implement potentially unpopular restructuring, it warns. “When university leaders do not have academic staff on board for major initiatives, things go wrong,” the report notes.

In his foreword to the report, Sir Drummond Bone – former UUK president and now master of Balliol College, Oxford – who chairs the OBE’s advisory board, adds that “the vertically integrated, homogeneous, self-standing institution is under considerable challenge”, with alliances set to play far greater roles.

The report also examines how international demand for UK higher education will change by 2020.

Using a British Council analysis, it says numbers of international students coming to the UK will continue to grow up to 2020, but at a lower rate than in the past.

Instead, growth in transnational education (TNE), such as providing distance learning courses and studying at international branch campuses, will accelerate.

However, income from TNE students is unlikely to outstrip revenues received from incoming international students by 2020 because they generate much lower fees for universities, it says.

For instance, almost half of the 570,000 TNE students registered to UK universities were on an applied accounting course provided by Oxford Brookes University and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. They paid only a one-off fee of £135 to the university when they submitted their dissertation to upgrade to a BSc.

Official data collection methods should also be changed to mitigate the “Oxford Brookes effect”, which exaggerated the success of TNE recruitment in recent years, the report adds.

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