One thing that really makes humans unique is the ability to pass on our knowledge. Without this, each generation would have to start from scratch.
Universities are society's primary way of distributing advanced knowledge. As technology makes this distribution more efficient, such as offering information online for free, some worry that the current university business model will break.
Although their business models will need to change, I believe that universities are an important component of a developed society. They will change, but they will always be necessary, no matter how they share knowledge.
When I was a student I had to physically go to lectures, meet tutors and borrow books. Today's students can download ebooks, skype with a tutor and watch lectures on an iPad. It seems the internet is becoming a huge threat to universities.
L. Rafael Reif, the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says they started putting their courses online ten years ago. "Instead of coming to class, many of our students now just look at material on (the internet)," he says.
In some ways, this is very liberating. Sebastian Thrun, a professor at Stanford, for example, put his course on artificial intelligence online two years ago. Since then hundreds of thousands of people around the world have completed it, including Khadijah Niazi, a 12-year-old Pakistani girl.
But the popularity of online education could destroy universities' economic models. If students can download a course on their iPad, they might question why they need to go to a university at all, especially in a country such as the US where there is now almost $1tn of student debt.
"Since 1980 the cost of higher education has gone up 400 per cent…the system is incredibly broken and needs to be reinvented," says Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal.
Personally, I am hoping this revolution will reduce costs, and before my kids go to college.
From the Financial Times © 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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