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Note From the Editor: Digitization making universities obsolete?

Aurora Brief Reviews No. 14 April 17 2020

April 2020

This note was written before the Corona crisis – but still may have some relevance for those of us looking beyond the current crisis and its impact of digitization.

Digitization of education in public universities falls short – by a long way – of what experts say is minimally necessary for such universities. Universities digitize much too slow – according to these experts – to avoid becoming obsolete in the very near future.
But while student enrolment in private online courses is still growing – although at a flattened curve – on-campus enrolment has also still been growing almost anywhere. So how realistic is the Doomsday scenario exclaiming that universities – in digitisation – need to ‘shape up or ship out’?
The reason why traditional on-campus higher education is still holding its own may be found in the value proposition of on-campus education, which is more complex than digitisation advocates seem to realise:

  • Provision of subject-related knowledge & skills? Online education may be as good as on-campus, once the parts of the practical skills can be captured in Apps.
  • Development of general academic competencies? No reason why it couldn’t be done online – but how much online education is actually developed for those competencies?
  • Development of personal and social skills? Same thing: it could be done online, but there isn’t much around yet.
  • Forming a network and learning how to engage in networks? That is something achieved through on-campus education still so much better than through online communities! Young people are very apt at maintaining online networks and contacts, but they still value the friendships formed in college beyond those formed through social media.
  • And then, finally, there is the ‘seal of selection’: having obtained a degree of an esteemed university has much greater social and economic value than any certificate from an online course.
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