'Ivy League' schools mouse click away

TOM PULLAR-STRECKER
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012

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Universities face the same challenges from the internet as the music industry now that "ivy league" universities are offering free online courses to hundreds of thousands of people, academics have been told.

The emergence over the last six months of "massive open online courses" (Moocs) is the hot topic at a gathering of 400 tertiary educationists meeting in Wellington yesterday and today for the Australasian Society for Computers in Tertiary Education Conference.

Conference organiser, Massey University professor Mark Brown, said "celebrity" universities such as Harvard and Stanford appeared to be following the same strategy as media companies, offering courses free online to grow their "global brand" and in the hope they could monetise them later.

Twenty universities, including Melbourne University, Stanford and London University have clubbed together to create Mooc provider Coursera.org, which now offers 206 courses in everything from philosophy to computing.

It says nearly two million people from 196 countries have enrolled in at least one course.

At the moment, Moocs do not confer formal qualifications, but Prof Brown said some Moocs were starting to offer "badges".

He compared the cache to a "cap from Manchester United".

The rise of Moocs was putting pressure on all universities to find their niche, he said.

"The challenge for universities is how do we respond to this new digital era?

"The ground is moving as we speak."

While Moocs had forced educationists to put their thinking caps on, the sector was also rattled by a controversial report produced by Ernst & Young in Australia last month that forecast "time was running out" for traditional university business models, Prof Brown said.

Ernst & Young's report said most universities had more support staff than academics and they would have to get leaner.

New technologies, increased competition and flat-lining government funding would force universities to "fundamentally reinvent themselves" in the decade ahead, the company said.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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