Are Cyborg Universities coming soon?

Universities and colleges world over are struggling to find the ways to attract new students in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. Several of them have extended their deadlines for accepting application and enrollment. A paradigm shift in the education about the value, price and program has become obvious in these days.

Many feel that the value of education has been substantially degraded, this is because in today’s consumerist world, education must lead to an employability outcome.

Education for sake of broadening one’s horizon and for learning is becoming passé. Students are forced to take a hard look at that the fee they are going to spend for any university degree vis-à-vis the return on investment (ROI).

Growing uncertainties regarding the filling up of seats giving a nightmare to academic administrators across the universities. This pandemic has disrupted the staid firmament of the education sector.

Are our universities are equipped to deal with the rapid change in the landscape of higher education?

Many educational experts agree to the fact that the world order of higher education is no longer going to be same as before. According to Professor Scott Galloway of NYU Stern School of Business, a major shift in the landscape of higher education is inevitable, as the giant tech companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple would necessitate partnership with the top elite universities around the world to offer degrees to students across the globe. Such partnership will enable these marquee institutions to expand enormously their student intake by offering hybrid online-offline degrees which are economically affordable while not compromising the value of their degree. He asserts that these associations will challenge the very existence of brick-and-mortar universities and eventually will replace most of these universities sooner or later.

Even though delivered mostly online, this imminent disruption will find more people to have access to a solid education never than before. The partnerships will make life easier for hundreds of millions of people. The face-to face system of learning that has evolved over centuries will be faded away.

People may wonder why the large technology companies, for example Apple should invest in a collaborative partnership with one of the Ivy League universities, say MIT. Answer is rather obvious because education is the next growth driver for such companies to move to next higher scale.

“These big-tech companies have to turn their eyes to new prey, the list of which gets pretty short pretty fast if you look at how big these industries need to be in that weight class. People ask if big tech wants to get into education and health care, and I say no, they must get into education and health care. They have no choice”. Professor Galloway argues.

This arrangement will lead to so-called “Cyborg Universities” a confluence of cyber-physical marriage of technology with brand and reputation of big-name red brick universities.

However, some academicians do not favour this argument that Google, Apple, and Microsoft will soon partner with top tier universities to corner the market on higher education and leave the remaining universities and colleges in the dust.

Counter Point

One such counter argument by a prolific blogger Pete in Medium says,

“I remain optimistic (that) on-campus education will return. The traditional role of college as a place for emotional development cannot be underscored enough. Entering a new social environment, without the baggage of your past has always been a critical part of development. It allows you to explore and discover what inspires you. Sure, some people are popular and confident no matter where they are, they know exactly what they want to do and never deviate. But those students are surely a minority, (and) do not always turn out successful, and are not necessarily someone you would want to spend time with. The in-person campus will continue to be a place where kids want to go, and parents will see value. Remote learning will hopefully attenuate the cost of education, but it will not result in an end to in-person education anytime soon. That’s my guess.”

Accelerated Adoption of Technology in Higher Education

The academic world is still in its nascent stages of remote learning and the ongoing pandemic will accelerate this technology enabled delivery of education. To optimize the enrollments, many universities have been revamping the pricing of on-campus degrees (traditionally more expensive) and online degrees/certifications (generally thought to be cheaper). In the emerging environment, there would be experimentation with hybrid model, implying credits of degrees can be earned partly on campus and partly through online methodology. The price point may also lie somewhere in-between.

In India, also the regulators (UGC) permitted up to 20% of courses to earn online. The New Education Policy has provisions to enable universities offer fully online degrees.

Currently, many established online course delivery platforms exist, like Coursera, edX, Udacity and in India home grown platforms like NPTEL and SWAYAM. These platforms constitute the segment of remote learning called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Recently, Coursera has launched C4C (Coursera For Campus) initiative in India. Here, universities take bulk licenses from Coursera and their students can enroll for certain number of courses to earn credits towards their degree. This initiative became popular during the pandemic days as it was offered at no-cost to universities which helped them experiment with this way of learning.

So, how the universities in India should prepare to stay valid and relevant in the digital disruption and radical change in the emerging teaching learning paradigm.

Evolution to University 4.0

Revolutionary change should be necessitated to sustain in the challenging years to come, and transformation into University 4.0 could be an appropriate description of the ways that universities around the world need to respond to the new economy.

Key Elements of University 4.0

The adoption of U4.0 concept would entail development of curriculum appropriate to skills needed for sustaining Industry 4.0 skill requirements. This will lead to development of curriculum 4.0. The pedagogy would transform to education 4.0 to imbibe concepts of digital teaching learning incorporating the use of online resources. It would also lead to co-creation of knowledge and innovation.

Key to this a development of a digital platform for teaching learning which incorporates technologies such as AR/VR and AI&ML based adaptive learning so that today’s digital natives get exemplary student experience.

Distinctive learning models catering to multidisciplinary programs, such as adoption of flexible education and HBO (hybrid-blended-online) model are the imperative in this concept. Flexible education offers more efficient educational delivery model, provides marketing advantage as distinctiveness, may attract more enrollments thereby meeting requirement of today’s students who need more individuality of time, place and mode of study and widens the access of HE through Flexible Delivery Mode. Adoption of full-blown Choice Based Credit System (CBCS), Be-Spoke Degrees, MOOC Integration and Experiential Learning are to be carefully curated in the modern teaching learning experience.

With wide-ranging developments in technology and its disruptive influence on emerging models of higher education it is matter of time when University 4.0 will morph into Cyborg Universities, the shape and form only time will tell.

“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.” — David Warlick

Author: Dr. Parag Diwan is a noted academic leader and has many large institution building projects to his credit. Currently, he works with multiple universities to make the higher education relevant to today’s digital economy.

A noted academic leader, is at the vanguard of research and curriculum design across disciplines to usher in Education.40. Evangelist & Advisor to universities

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