EAIE: Traditional Universities "Nothing to Fear" from MOOCs Despite Being Pushed Online by Pandemic

EAIE: Traditional Universities "Nothing to Fear" from MOOCs Despite Being Pushed Online by Pandemic

No Radical Shifts Expected in Traditional Education after Pandemic

Traditional public and private university degree programmes will still be the preferred mode of learning for students in the foreseeable future, despite being pushed online by the pandemic and suddenly finding themselves on an equal footing with massive open online courses (MOOC).
This seemed to be the consensus among participants at the recently held 2021 EAIE Community Exchange Virtual Conference and Exhibition, which was also attended by Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences.

COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown forced schools, colleges and universities to stop all regular face-to-face educational interactions between teachers and students. They had to move literally overnight to the online-only learning/teaching model. Though countries have now started to ease lockdowns, online excursions have given plenty to think about.

From next week, Wittenborg expects its classrooms to be open again, running at full capacity and with no social distancing. Wittenborg President and Chair of the Executive Board Peter Birdsall said one of the main questions the institution will face is how to discourage traditional, frontal teaching in favour of more engaging classes, while integrating some of the advanced digital tools it has developed the past 18 months.

Birdsall took part in a panel discussion on balancing educational experiences, student expectations and tuition fees alongside Prof. Robert Buttery, Head of International Relations at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.

Buttery said although traditional 3- and 4-year degree programmes have had a bit of a bumpy ride the past 18 months – not only due to the highly disruptive pandemic, but also ongoing changes in government – he does not believe there will be a radical shift in the standard model for undergraduates in the next five years. “MOOCs and micro-credentials have been around for years but have had limited success in directly influencing the degree programme market, certainly as far as the European market is concerned.

“As long as universities continue to provide employers with well-prepared, all-round graduates as well as serve their local communities, they will remain on solid ground. I also believe we will see the re-birth of a more holistic approach to higher education. Except for highly technical jobs, employers are looking to recruit graduates with a wide range of interpersonal and intercultural skills. Students I think would be hard pushed to acquire these skills and competencies from MOOCs and micro-credentials unless they are expertly guided and monitored by experienced, independent advisors.”

Birdsall agreed, saying: “What motivates students to leave schools and continue their education is the insurance that they are going to be introduced to people – to peers, to mentors, to companies, to work experience and social experiences. In other words, all the things that facilitate teenagers moving into young adulthood. International students will always be motivated to study abroad. They have the same ambitions as national students, but they go one step further: they embrace total immersion in an experiential environment. I don’t think anything online will replace what we as a business school offer students and what most universities in the Netherlands offer as well – that experience with each other.”

Tuition Fees

On tuition fees, Buttery said although undergraduate and graduate programmes continue being subsidised, it does not mean that budgets are not under “continual scrutiny” and often being cut.

“The issue with subsidies is that it can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand a straightjacket which limits recruitment, revenue generation and innovation, but on the plus side it is good for students. Universities of applied sciences in Europe have adapted a long time ago by seeking third-party funding, sponsors and other means of support to counterbalance public funding shortfalls. Whatever funding model you work with, public or private, as institutions we will always be accountable to deliver quality education and offer good value for money.”

Birdsall said he thinks the fee-structure will remain roughly the same in the Netherlands where public universities are heavily funded by the government. “Private institutions like us will have to look very carefully at making sure we offer students what they expect, which is a good experience and value for money.”

Cheap Education vs Quality

Birdsall added that “cheap higher education is not possible. It often turns out to be a poor experience with high dropout rates and I’m afraid to say this mostly occurs with online degrees. The modern approach to quality education is through national and international accreditation processes and a focus on the value of the education – meaning there is always fundamental baseline expenses for a school. This does not entail that very expensive means very good. There has to be a balance between funding and expectation of students. So if you promote experiential learning, employability, training and career opportunities, then you have to meet those expectations. And you have to ensure that students understand the fee structure, making it transparent and setting expectations accordingly.”

WUP 11/10/2021
By Anesca Smith
©WUAS Press