As the UK sees record numbers of applicants applying for university places, and the prospect of as many as 50,000 being turned away, it is perhaps unsurprising that the latest UNESCO World Conference in Higher Education discussed the challenge of demand as well as equity, affordability and relevance. So how important is the incorporation of ICT-driven learning to the future of higher education?
The latest UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) conference was held in Paris with around 1,000 participants and included speakers from around the world. Assistant Director General for Communication and Information, Abdul Waheed Khan, posed four clear questions at the outset: ‘Will present day universities become the dinosaurs of tomorrow? Will there be profound changes in learning content? What is the role of students and staff and how will we ensure quality and sustainability on the Internet?’
The conference also had a special focus on higher education in Africa, where demand is also said to be increasing rapidly. In order to accommodate more students, there were calls to incentivize the development of courses in subjects such as agriculture, environment and natural resources with the aid of private finance. Consequently, countries such as Brazil and China offered their help, whilst the importance of establishing regional higher education and research areas was also identified.
China is one of the countries that has seen such an extreme demand in higher education before – and has successfully adapted to deal with it. Professor Zheng Deming, of the Shanghai Television University, spoke of the development from a need to offer training to a huge workforce, at the same time as wanting to give elderly people the continued ability to learn, to what the STUV has become today. Now they offer an eight platform virtual learning platform which serves underdeveloped communities, including 4 million immigrants.
However, it was the words of Didier Oillo (printed at egovmonitor.com) that were arguably the most relevant in regards to online learning. The Creator/Director of a French speaking virtual university highlighted that the last ten years witnessed the knowledge society move faster than economy and industry – meaning that young people and prospective students have already mastered blogs and Twitter, whilst many traditional institutions have not. Further advancements such as the $100 computer are set to see this ICT divide widen unless institutions make a special effort to train and adapt for a fast moving sector.