It is argued that the rise in for-profit online courses is democratizing learning, and creating ‘accessibly, quality education for everyone who wants it’. But there is a disturbing trend of online universities which are running merely for profit, which pride themselves on developing ‘courses like products’, outsourcing staff to cut costs and developing such a standardised degree that it can be completed as cheaply as possibly, and resold each year to a fresh new set of undergrads.
For universities to assume a total business management model is to miss the point of tertiary education entirely. We live in an age of academic inflation; to put it quite simply, when it comes to getting hired, the same level education won’t get you as far as it once would. More people are graduating from university than ever before. The same employers who were once thrilled at a Bachelor degree, might now consider an an Honors inadequate. So basically, if you’re only going to university for that piece of paper you are wasting your time. Universities need to be able to offer more than just something to write on your resume, they need to create a space which nurtures creativity and innovation as well as equip students to ‘think and communicate with the most powerful medium of our time‘. To standardise a degree is to hinder creativity and to ignore the individual. Standardised models of education do not allow humans to flourish, we need an education system that is personal, that allows individuals to develop their own solutions based on external support. Creating courses merely to extract economic benefits from people is to dislocate students from their natural abilities and create a focus on individual. We need courses that adapt to the individuals who attempt them, we need courses that challenge students and that push them
Why focus solely on the vocational, when the qualification has practically been rendered inadequate? If all universities take such a ‘institutionally-focused pragmatism’, then surely students will adopt a similarly disinterested approach, and the result will be nothing more than a cohort of disinterested young adults with worthless transcripts. We’re creating a generation of students with only one bottom line in mind; money. What will this mean for the future of academia? Well, if the focus on nothing more than pleasing the customer, there probably won’t be much of a future. Realistically, the current teaching generation will one day be dead, and running universities will be these students from these stock-market listed atrocities with little intention to contribute to public knowledge or political discourse.
And what about open access? The internet is the most powerful communication force that we have seen to date. We must utilise the internet to harness creativity, not hinder it. We need to use it to disseminate knowledge in a way that benefits society as a whole, not corporate greed. We need to use it to inspire invention and improvisation – to utilise online publishing in a way that previous generations could only dream of. Society thrives upon a diversity of talent. Diversity is not going to materialize through turning out cookie-cutter courses faster than the cheques can be cashed.
‘The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew” – Abraham Lincoln