[iDC] Getting started: Equity or utility in the future of learning?

George Siemens gsiemens at elearnspace.org
Tue Jun 8 11:38:54 UTC 2010

Hi all,

First - thanks Trebor for the opportunity in engage in this discussion on
trends in learning and education. The topic is larger than can be addressed
from one perspective, so I'm pleased that Stephen and Nancy are involved.

Instead of forwarding a missive on the topic in week one - Trends in
Learning and Education - it's more sensible to form some level of coherence
post-discussion after multiple views have been shared. To conclude the topic
each week, I'll pull together a list of key topics and resources shared
(assuming, of course, that we are able to generate enough dialogue).

A few thoughts to get started:

Education has been described as "the last field to globalize". This is not
for lack of trying. Attempts by universities to develop a global presence
result more frequently in failure than in success (such as Johns Hopkins
failed move into Singapore). For-profit entities such as Apollo Group and
Laureate Education (who recently announced Bill Clinton as an honorary
chancellor) have had more succes, growing to multi-billion dollar
internationally distributed university systems. In contrast, some investors
are predicting a large scale implosion of the for-profit sector (

Enrolment in higher education is growing rapidly, from 29 million in 1970 to
153 million in 2007. Growth has occurred in all regions - sub-Saharan
Africa, Pacific, Asia, Latin America, etc (
http://www.uis.unesco.org/template/pdf/ged/2009/GED_2009_EN.pdf ). At the
same time, governments are turning to education as a saviour of sorts in
economic innovation and transformation (
If we focus on enrolment numbers and the role governments turn to higher
education to fulfill, this does not look like an industry in decline. Add
irritating terms like massification and education for all, particularly
light of globalization, and we have what looks like a healthy system (oh,
and throw in a dose of student mobility).

Universities that have traditionally relied on equities-based growth now
need to find alternative revenue sources (
http://www.educationalpolicy.org/pub/pubpdf/0902_recession.pdf). "Knowledge
commercialization" has not yet provided a suitable replacement.
International students is a more promising approach. For example, in
Australia, education is one of the largest export earner (
However, recent change in immigration laws has significantly impacted this
sector with fears of 20-40% drop in international students.

Costs of education continue to increase, with a greater portion of the
tuition falling on the learners. Government support, as a percentage of
total tuition, shows a long line of decline. Learners are forced to pick up
the slack. The connection between a university degree and economic gain is
being questioned (http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/06/03/larson).

Many developing regions of the world - eager to play an active role in the
so-called "knowledge economy" - face significant constraints. Once educated,
citizens often leave their home country, choosing to remain in countries
with better research or academic opportunities. Faculty often take on
part-time work to compliment their poor earnings in the university. The gaps
in equity produced by the industrial economy may be more pronounced in the
knowledge economy (see this report for a more detailed analysis:

The theme that will frame our discussions over the next few weeks - equity
or utility in the future of learning - occurs against this backdrop of
increased enrolment, increased state reliance on the education sector as a
competitive advantage, reduced public support for education, and a systemic
groping for revenue not based on equities.

We see and hear of the *changing higher education* sector. What we really
need is some sense of what the *higher education sector is becoming. *

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