Future of the University: Focusing on the Knowledge Dissemination Aspect

The concept of a university has traditionally been an institution where teachers and scholars come together for the creation and dissipation of new knowledge. But with a growing demand for higher education, many universities and colleges have crept up in order to cater to the rising number of students. I am not saying that new universities should not be allowed but the rise has been too steep as shown in the picture below (1) which shows the awarded degrees in the US over the years. A similar situation also exists in my home country, India.

Figure 1: College Degrees Awarded in the US over the years (1)

I think a major reason for this increase has been the notion that people with higher education or degrees end up getting jobs and would have to do blue-collar jobs otherwise. This has historically been true in many cases but I think the degree is not the reason students end up getting jobs or doing the work they like. It is due to the knowledge and skills gained as a part of the higher education experience. With a rise in the number of universities and number of students, I feel this importance of focusing on the knowledge gaining aspect has reduced a bit at the global level. Many countries are trying to ensure that this does not happen by establishing accreditation boards. However, I think much more can be done by policymakers.

With the emergence of MOOCs and accessibility to the Internet, even people who have been in jobs or are novices wishing to learn about the field are now able to learn and focus on the knowledge aspect. I accede that some do it because of the added certification to their profile but the crucial aspect here is that those who wish to learn have reduced accessibility to do that from a traditional university. For example, if a person wants to learn about a specific subfield of mechanical engineering, MOOC’s give that person the ability to do so whereas traditional universities, in addition to being costly, also involve making them learn about something they were not interested in as a part of the curriculum. So I think the high number of universities in today’s age should be able to emulate this model and focus on developing and focusing also on learners who would do a service to themselves and the society rather than purely creating students with degrees.


(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_higher_education_in_the_United_States