What the University of the Future Will Look Like

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Tomorrow's higher-education institutions will be accessible, flexible, innovative and job-focused, emphasizing lifelong learning.

Four years ago, Microsoft Founder Bill Gates predicted that technology and the Internet would make “place-based colleges” less relevant and bring down the cost of a college education to just $2,000.

Now, students around the world tend to agree, with many citing a belief that the university of the future will be accessible, flexible, innovative and job-focused, with a particular emphasis on lifelong learning.  

That’s according to a new survey commissioned by Laureate International and performed by Zogby Analytics, which found that students predict a future where classes will be offered at various times throughout the day and year. Courses will be more affordable and virtual, and lifelong learning through certificate programs, refresher courses and online mentoring will replace traditional college degrees.

“Familiar institutions which have provided stability, security and opportunity for a millennium are withering amidst rapid technological change,” the report states. “It is an era the world has not seen since the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of the Renaissance, the New World and the Enlightenment. New institutions, driven by the needs of the actual prosumers, are changing the landscape of politics, nongovernmental organizations, economies and finance, and education.”

The survey of more than 20,800 students worldwide found that 43 percent believe future course content will be provided for free online, while 59 percent believe it will be more common for students to use social media to learn and teach other students. Course materials, books and other resources will also be available in free online libraries, according to 68 percent of respondents.

As the workplace is changing to becoming more flexible and innovative, so will education, according to the survey. More than half of students (52 percent) believe courses will be offered at all times day or night. Forty-one percent said they believe traditional two- or four-year degrees will be replaced by specialized certificates that enable students to take courses at their own pace.

And as the workplace looks to foster greater innovation, students believe higher education will evolve in the same way. More than half (54 percent) say future courses will focus on collaboration between students, and 43 percent say personalized online instruction or tutoring will render traditional classrooms less important.

Finally, course content and requirements will be more market driven in the future, preparing students to excel in in-demand fields. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of students believe future course offerings will be designed by industry experts, and more than seven in 10 think career-oriented skills will be more of a focus than subject matter in future university programs.

With the rapid pace of technological change, IT is one area already moving in this direction, particularly with the field’s emphasis on certifications and continuous learning so most workers simply can keep up.

Computer science degrees also are moving to more affordable, online formats. Last year, the Georgia Institute for Technology announced the launch of its first professional online Master of Science degree in computer science that can be earned completely through a massive open online course, or MOOC, format. The degree, provided in collaboration with Udacity Inc. and AT&T, takes three years to complete at a total cost of just $7,000. 

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