Ed Byrne, president and principal of King’s College London, believes that any university not exploring the world of distance education will find itself in “real trouble” because no institution is “immune to disruption”.
Speaking during a debate at education company Pearson about online learning’s impact on global higher education, Professor Byrne said: “If I look ahead and think of the range of things universities do, we’re going to have to have superb technological environments everywhere – whether it’s in e-education…or on-campus [education].
“Will the traditional large lecture last beyond the next 10 to 15 years? Personally, I doubt it. I just don’t think it’s a format any more that’s aligned with the information world that we’re moving into.”
He said he hoped that “the need for accelerated, exponential change will be met by the sector”. But he added: “I think places that just ignore all this – business as usual, nothing changes – will be in real trouble in every aspect of what they do.”
Professor Byrne warned universities “to be careful” that they do not “outsource…academic delivery, quality and cohort”, but there are things that providers such as Pearson “are doing better and more efficiently than we can do by ourselves”.
Rod Bristow, president of core markets at Pearson, with whom King’s announced a new partnership last year to help deliver online postgraduate qualifications in mental health and law, said that he was “not convinced with the avalanche analogy” that distance education would overwhelm the traditional delivery of higher education.
“I don’t see that. I also don’t think it’s necessarily that healthy for us to be focusing on the word ‘disruption’. It’s easy to disrupt things; what we’re trying to do is actually create a better experience, more access, higher quality for learners,” he said.
“If we just concentrate on the quality and the accessibility, maybe that will result in some disruption, I’m not sure. I don’t think disruption is the goal.”