Lifelong learning market untapped

September 3, 1999

Universities are failing to exploit the market for lifelong learning, according to the preliminary findings of a major study into the impact of virtual and corporate universities on higher education in the United Kingdom.

"The study has identified a range of challenges to the markets of conventional institutions arising from the activities of such providers. Principally these are in the adult continuing professional development field, where individuals and employers in many countries are endorsing private, for-profit providers," stated a briefing note issued last week by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which commissioned the work with the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The research team, led by Robin Middlehurst of the University of Surrey, investigated types of new provision and providers and the range of responses from universities to the emerging global higher education market. It surveyed information from the UK, the Commonwealth, continental Europe and the United States.

The preliminary results also suggest that the international student market could be damaged by overseas institutions offering distance learning courses:

"Another threat may hit the international student market as virtual institutions offer courses that might otherwise be provided and studied in the UK.

"There are also deeper challenges afoot from the convergence of new technologies; such convergence is not only giving opportunities for new entrants to the educational market but is also challenging traditional methods of designing, delivering and accrediting programmes. Thus the changes could have major implications not only for students but also for the roles and work patterns of academic staff."

The researchers will now focus on these potential threats and their implications.

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