Colleges At A Crossroads: 4 Problems Laid Out

boat at pierThe university sector is set for a shakeout.

The traditional model is “no longer fit for purpose” and unlikely to remain viable, said Ferdinand von Prondzynski.

But despite experimentation and new technology, there is still uncertainty about the future form of higher education, he said.

Von Prondzynski (@vonprond) was speaking this morning at the latest in the Cornflakes & Commerce cereal of talks at the NCI (@ncirl) in Dublin.

Now Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Robert Gordon University in Scotland, he was President of Dublin City University, for 10 years until July 2010. He also spent time as a lecturer in NCI (where I also do some part-time teaching).Ferdinand von Prondzynski

His talk was titled, The End of the Campus University: new learning in a new age.

A second issue facing universities is their tendency to isolate themselves from the outside world, von Prondzynski said.

“They should not be islands,” and should do more to engage with stakeholders. The vice-chancellor said one disconnect is with academics’ perception of the importance of disciplines. They argue that a deep knowledge is required, he noted.

“The problem is they are all artificial,” von Prondzynski said. Meanwhile, the outside world thinks in terms of problem to be solved in health, transport, security or hundreds of other areas, he added.

Technological Impairments

Universities need to be more open to technological change, von Prondzynski said. He told of a recent trip he made to a local university where three academics told of their refusal to still use email. The irony is, “If you are a student, email is yesterday’s technology.”

Comparing the fields of lecturing and medicine of 100 years ago to today, von Prondzynski said a doctor plucked out of 1912 and put in to an operating theater today would be assigned duties as an orderly.The professor, plopped in to his environment , would be puzzled by PowerPoint initially, but would feel his working life was very familiar, he said.

Bureaucracy Driven

Universities need to be “much more entrepreneurial” and more connected with stakeholders in higher education, von Prondzynski said. “Universities as a whole are very slow to move,” he said. One Irish institution has 1,386 committees — a situation that guarantees paralysis.

Meanwhile, the environment outside academia is changing. Demographic shifts mean a greater proportion of students will be adults who “have a very clear view about what they want” out of an educaiton, von Prondzynski said.

Course-delivery changes by the likes of MIT mean people can get a certificate from the world’s top-ranked university. Arizona State University has also blazed a trail in third-level innovation. And Robert Gordon University will be making some announcements soon on changes, von Prondzynski said.