Anka Mulder

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Will universities be the Uber of Higher Education?

Since the first MOOCs went online three years ago,  there have been many publications about their effects: would MOOCs increase access to higher education to new groups of students or not, would they lead to innovation in education or were they old didactics gone digital, and would MOOCs be the end of the university?

Universities will still be around 10 or 20 years from now, but there are developments we should be aware of. One of them is that digitisation has created enormous possibilities for data brokering and brokers in higher education, a development we are already witnessing in many sectors (see for example: The Uberfication of Everything).

Let’s have a look at the two most often mentioned examples: Uber in the taxi world and AirBnB for hotels. Both companies were set up only a few years ago and they have become very successful. There are some funny things about both of them. They don’t have hotels and don’t own taxis, but they own the data. They also don’t employ hotel workers or taxi drivers (people who work via them are paid per job), but they do employ data specialists. Uber and AirBnB have become the very successful brokers in the taxi and hotel world.

ubersMany people claim  that the hotel or taxi business is very different from higher education. But is that true? Or will higher education have a broker as well and will we – academics, managers, support staff – be its taxi drivers?

Another interesting data broker is LinkedIn. It already has access to tons of information, which we have given to LinkedIn on a voluntary basis. Name, education, professional background and interests, connections, skills and endorsements. It recently bought online learning company Lynda. It has also acquired Bright, which makes algorithms to match jobs and candidates. LinkedIn connects students with universities (LinkedIn helps students find a university), students with jobs (LinkedIn helps students find a job) and universities with alumni (LinkedIn helps university connect with alumni). What if, in the future, it does not connect anybody with your university or mine?

Universities have the content, students and data, so perhaps they needn’t worry. Some people believe that they should and universities should have the ambition to become the broker themselves, not let the Uberfication of higher education happen. But how good, user friendly or fast are universities with big data compared to companies like Amazon or Trip Advisor? From the perspective of professionalism in data management even dating services have a better chance of becoming the broker of higher education than universities do.

If we see the Uberfication of higher edcation as a real possibility, is there something we should or could do about it? One possibility is to develop data expertise ourselves, alone or as universities together: understand how to use our data better, personalise education, professionalise education services, especially online. Or perhaps we should work together with those who are much better at this already. Be realistic about what we do well and what we don’t.

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