By Brenda Gourley Vice Chancellor; The Open University
The Independent (London, England)
The Secretary of State, John Denham, has instituted a review of higher education. That is a good idea. Never before has higher education merited a review quite as much as it does now. The factors in play are astonishing in their breadth and complexity and pace of change. Here are just a few to be getting on with.
The first is technologies and the social changes that are following in their wake. The internet on its own has changed everything; universal satellite coverage in combination with converging and mobile technologies such as the iPhone - which is literally a telephone, camera, video, internet browser, TV, newspaper and a personal computer - makes issues about "accessibility" and "participation" assume whole new meanings. Social networking has made it easy to form learning communities across the world, in cyberspace.
The open education resource movement has put learning resources in the hands of all, free to use. Adding all this together it is easy to understand that the boundaries between formal and informal education have become blurred. Whole new ways of learning render our time-honoured modes of delivery hopelessly outdated. This also has revolutionary potential for democratising access to knowledge and information.
Furthermore, it is now possible for students to access courses from different people in different universities in different countries. Higher education has gone global in ways we never dreamt possible. Would the idea of an iTunes University or a Wikiversity have meant anything at all just five years ago?
Secondly, with higher level skills in such demand - especially in an economy such as ours - more and more people are required to equip themselves at university level. …