Back to school
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is preparing to expand its global model of higher education through its MITx online course platform. These modules are quite good, and bring to mind the idea of whether they could be utilised as a pathway program, similar to what Navitas Limited (ASX: NVT) provides.
Could the MITx program be a threat to the NVT business model? I’m not sure it can.
The reason for my thinking is that NVT’s value proposition is very unique. Most university students have not heard of NVT, however they have heard the names of universities that NVT partners with (La Trobe, The University of Newcastle, Curtin University etc).
The student hence doesn’t choose NVT, they choose the university, and are placed into the pathway program should they not meet standard entry requirements.
Let’s assume that the expansion of MITx has occurred and universities are willing to accept their curriculum as a foundation program. How many students are going to want to participate in the program? I think the number could be considerable (for those not able to qualify for direct entry), but I think more would prefer the NVT program which has the advantage of placing the student into second-year studies upon completion. This brings post-graduate employment closer and reduces university fees by about a year.
In addition, the NVT system provides administration, localised teachers and other staff, giving them quite an advantage over what MITx can offer.
Of course, this raises further questions about the way that education is currently being provided in contrast to how it may be provided in the future. To this, I believe that the answer will lie in HR departments around the world; and just how valuable they will consider online degrees compared to more traditional degrees in the future. In addition, will students consider online degrees or traditional degrees to be the surest way of attaining employment once the mortar board is thrown?
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A huge part of University is the people you meet there. The skills of personal group interaction cannot be learned through the screen. You need the shared experience, the events, the expeditions, the smells, the parties, the football matches, the deep and meaningful discussions, the explorations of different peoples different ethical positions. Facts you can get any time and they need to be continuously updated.
I wonder if universities are slowly undermining their own business cases. An increasing number of lecturers choose to podcast a significant percentage of their lectures. I am seeing quite a few students who are paying for full time attendance receiving and submitting most of their material at home. With some obvious exceptions, this seems to be opening the door for disruptors to deliver almost any course with a big theory content.
Many students are paying for nothing much more than the piece of paper at the end stamped with the name of a prestigious institution. Heaven help them if employers en masse start employing on the basis of substance over style.
ANd here’s one to consider, the employers start running their own online academies for potential recruits to fill gap left by the universities…
1) MIT has a brand name which is sought after (that’s my view anyway). This will give it some leverage and attractiveness.
2) Online learning (or Distance Education) is already hugely popular here in Australia. As far as I’m aware, all Universities offer just as many courses in a face-to-face method as well as by distance. There are limitations to what can be done via distance (eg: exams, practical work) but I can only see this increasing from an operations (business) point of view (from the University side) and a convenience factor (from the students point of view). I personally have done Tafe & University both by distance and face-to-face and you’ll never see me in a classroom again. [Wasted] time travelling to and from campus, set class times and no flexibility, teaching progresses at the pace of the slowest learner, lecturer/teacher calls in sick even though you’ve already turned up. etc etc.