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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It’s the end of the university as we know it | Quartz - Science of Learning

This is the last in The Vanishing University, a four-part series exploring the tech-driven future of higher education in America. Here are parts one, two, and three.

"“Not enough people are innovating enough in higher education,” gripes Larry Summers, the economist who served for five years as president of Harvard. “General Electric looks nothing like it looked in 1975. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford look a lot like they looked in 1975" insist Amy X. Wang, reporter at Quartz and Allison Schrager, economist, writer, and pension geek. 

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Photo: Harry Tennant for Quartz

They’re about the same size to within a factor of two; they’re about the same number of buildings; they operate on about the same calendar; they have many of the same people or some number of the same people in significant positions.”

But is Summers right?

Think of the college library. A musky, magnificent space—rooms topped out by cathedral ceilings, golden light angling in with otherworldly might, illuminating rows of students camping out amongst shelves or hunching over at wooden tables riddled with decades of frustrated pencil marks and the thuds of limb-tearing textbooks.

That is what it was. No longer. Over the last several decades, the university library has become less vital, its books getting dusty with disuse, its edge-worn card system replaced by digital catalogs and powerful scanning machines that could put entire tomes online in minutes. Some schools, like the University of Chicago, heavily downsized their library collections. Others, like the University of Texas at San Antonio, rethought the idea of a library, opening study spaces without physical books at all. Instead of going to libraries for resources and information, most students these days congregate there mainly to toss ideas back and forth, write essays together, work on group projects.

A massive transition is underway in the global economy right now that will soon obliterate the need for such a space, entirely. Future workers need—ironically enough—education that is both available at a mass scale and intensely specialized. Universities are facing a seemingly impossible crisis over how to offer accessible teaching, to several times the number of people as in years past, that is individualized, yet affordable.

Shocking as it might seem, there is one catch-all answer that could be the remedy to many of these concerns: Cut the campus loose. Axe the physical constraints. The library? Classrooms? Professors? Take it all away. The future of the university is up in the air...

The authors end their article with following, "There will always be some professors on campus. Perhaps just fewer of them. Educating undergraduates and graduate students is only one service universities offer, after all: They also produce research and scholarship, and AI can’t yet publish in top journals or conduct groundbreaking lab research. That’ll put a large premium on soft skills, of course, because in-person learning will be a more valuable, scarce commodity. As University of Illinois economics professor David Albouy points out, “AI might be better—it is better—at lots of things, but I have a comparative advantage when it comes to teaching because I am good at the mushy human stuff.”"

These days, college education is almost a necessity for employment. Universities and students alike have to come to terms with the fact that those who can pay the most will also receive the most scarce and valuable skills. In college education, as is the case with many other goods and services in the modern economy, technology has radically broadened the world’s access—at the price of heightened inequality.
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Source: Quartz

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