Will the university of the future be bigger — or smaller? Are college campuses still cradles of revolt — or merely marginal spectators to the Arab Spring? Should students expect to be trained for the job market — or is it more important to learn how to think?
Fortunately, the organizers of the “Reinventing Higher Education” conference held here last week didn’t try to force the participants to come to any consensus. Instead, Santiago Iñiguez, the conference host and president of IE University here, seemed to relish his role as provocateur-in-chief, predicting that tuition fees would continue to rise, while the duration of academic programs would shrink.
“Rather than always talking about profits versus nonprofits we might talk about research universities versus big education retailers,” he said, adding that as global competition for students and faculty increased, successful universities would “grow by mergers and acquisitions.”
David Van Zandt, who became president of The New School in New York last month, disagreed, arguing that there would always be a demand for smaller institutions offering specialist teaching and expertise, giving the example of Parson’s, the New School’s art and design college. When Nigel Thrift, vice chancellor of the University of Warwick in Britain, suggested that there was only room for 50 leading research universities in the world, Mr. Van Zandt disagreed with him as well, suggesting that “a much smaller number” of research universities could expect to survive the combined pressures of shrinking public subsidy and growing global mobility. The increasing quality of online learning would also be a factor, he said.
“I apologize to anyone here from Nebraska, but there is no reason to teach introductory chemistry in Nebraska in a classroom with 500 students. Not when you can pump in, say, someone from Harvard” to give a video lecture to much smaller groups, Mr. Van Zandt said.
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