The challenges of the global tuition market
Technology is transforming how students learn within universities, and this change will spur the globalisation of higher education, according to Tony Berry, director of the management research unit at of Sheffield Hallam University.
"What is fascinating at present is not the internet but the intranet (local networks, in this case within universities)," Professor Berry said. "Using distance-learning material up close is a growing area."
For example, students at Sheffield Hallam can now plug their personal laptop computers into sockets provided in libraries to access course material via the internet.
"The concept of a lecture-free university is moving apace," Professor Berry said. "This permits university teachers to act as consultants to student learning rather than lecturers."
The new patterns of open learning make it easier for universities to reach out to students who are not on campus. "If you see the internet as a link from the university to the outside world, then there are a myriad of distance-learning options," Professor Berry said. "If a university can combine quality distance-learning course material with local access to libraries and research facilities, they can provide effective tuition," he added.
This model of learning will, however, also lead to more competition from outside the university sector. For example, with greater access to each others' material, the core components of courses are likely to become standardised between universities.
"In business studies, the main consultancy houses in Western Europe have better material than many universities. This constitutes real competition in the knowledge economy," Professor Berry said. "For example, I cannot believe that the present arrangements for MBA courses will last. Students won't leave the consultancy houses to do MBAs in future."
Professor Berry also points to the role that United States organisations play in accrediting overseas courses. "There is not an effective European validation agency so it is likely the US will accredit more widely in Europe.
"There is going to be an interesting, radical shift in the pattern of learning and lots of other organisations are going to get involved. This change will also force radical change on the universities that already exist. I think that whole universities are going to disappear once the market is aware of quality and technology makes access to quality possible. I would not be surprised if there were only 35-40 universities left in ten years."
The universities that survive will be mega-institutions formed by mergers and take-overs. "The ones that will survive are those with high-quality research that can innovate," Professor Berry said. "With a greater informed market, I cannot see the present structure lasting."