Sector traditions can survive ‘digital avalanche’

UUK head dismisses warning over technological change

April 24, 2014

Pundits predicting that an “avalanche” of technological and competitive change will sweep away “traditional” higher education are wrong and often have a commercial motive for making such comments, according to the chief executive of Universities UK.

Nicola Dandridge did not specify who her comments were aimed at, but she could have been referring to Pearson, the multibillion-pound firm whose senior employees, including Sir Michael Barber, the chief education adviser, penned a report last year called An Avalanche Is Coming, which urged a “radical and urgent” transformation of universities.

At the Association of University Administrators conference on 15 April, she said: “Those who often talk about the merits of the avalanche – be it a digital avalanche or an unbundling avalanche – it’s those who tend to have a commercial interest in promoting its existence”.

She was speaking in a debate in favour of the motion that “traditional higher education will withstand any revolution and grow stronger”.

“If we abandon those traditions and embrace the faddish, the Moocish [referring to massive open online courses], the new, we are at risk of losing something profound and valuable,” she said.

Universities’ “monopoly” over degree awarding powers is coming to an end as students are able to obtain degrees from global online providers, the report predicts.

A spokeswoman for Pearson said that the report “actually argues that the next 50 years could see a golden age for higher education, but only if all players seize the initiative and act ambitiously”.

“Pearson takes no commercial position on any of this – we already work with traditional universities, providing books, software and services, and equally we are beginning to partner with Moocs in some circumstances,” she added.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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