Higher Education in the Digital Age: Books

By David, Miriam E. | Times Higher Education, June 6, 2013 | Go to article overview

Higher Education in the Digital Age: Books


David, Miriam E., Times Higher Education


Higher Education in the Digital Age. By William G. Bowen.Princeton University Press 192pp, Pounds 18.95. ISBN 9780691159300 and 9781400847204 (e- book). Published 13 May 2013

This eloquent little book, by the former president of Princeton University and also the Andrew Mellon Foundation, William Bowen, is based on two lectures presented at a colloquium at Stanford University. It also offers commentaries by four distinguished participants in that colloquium: Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard University; John Hennessey, president of Stanford; Andrew Delbanco, director of American studies at Columbia University; and Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera, an educational technology company that offers massive open online courses, at present free of charge.

The two lectures, by one of the most internationally renowned economists of education, presented in direct conversational and readable fashion, are about the linked issues of the costs and productivity of higher education - the "cost disease", as Bowen calls it - and how online education and Moocs can play a key role in making higher education affordable. While Bowen is concerned with the rising costs of higher education, it is in a very specific context - namely, residential undergraduate education for young people straight out of high school in the US, or secondary education in the UK. Interestingly, there has been a massive expansion of higher education over the past several decades, accompanied by transformations in both teaching and technologies, but Bowen and his fellow colloquium participants focus on a relatively narrow range of issues that are not to do with mass higher education, or indeed education for the masses (as Delia Langa Rosado and I dubbed it in 2006). They are not particularly concerned with social diversity or transformations in higher education to make it available to a wider constituency of social, cultural or ethnic groups. What we call widening participation or access to higher education in the UK is not a central concern of this debate; rather it is about how higher education can contribute to the increased productivity of both elite higher education and the subsequent labour markets - both of which, of course, are already being transformed through technological change. Equally interestingly, these lectures, which have been available online since the colloquium, and this subsequent publication, make scant mention of how socially transformative these Moocs can be. …

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