A global further and higher education virtual college with open access for everyone and driven by student demand was unveiled this week as the National Union of Students' vision for learning in the next century.
New technology will have melted away institutional boundaries and participation rates in post-school education and training will jump to 95 per cent of the population in the brave new world of "College X" described in the union's discussion paper 2020 Vision.
Students, supported by mentors and a comprehensive guidance system, would use new technology to choose and participate in a massive array of academic and vocational learning units from institutions globally, building towards qualifications through a credit accumulation and transfer system.
Quality would be policed by a National Education Audit Office and monitored through greater reliance on student feedback on "learning units" or modules. Students would receive full financial and learning support.
NUS leaders described the paper's proposals as a realistic unifying vision for the union's policies and "a challenge to policymakers".
The paper described a system that would enable anyone to study from their own living room, but was not a call for institutions to be scrapped, NUS president Jim Murphy said.
"It does not signal the demise of university life. There would also be learning centres for those who could not afford to have computers in their own home," he added.
Clive Lewis, the union's education vice president, said the implications of some sections would be examined in future policy papers.
2020 Vision is available free from NUS. Call Cindy Rowley on 0171 2 8900, and on the Internet at http://www.shef.ac.uk//nus/2020vision