Traditional universities need to move with the times

I agree massive open online courses (MOOCs) are a threat to traditional universities (The disruption of higher education; Oct 31).

In regions where the majority of people have access to low-cost computers and Internet, MOOCs are a blessing given the high cost of tertiary education. They cultivate a habit of self-learning, a vital life skill.

MOOCs broaden access to information and provide alternatives to traditional universities, which will force institutions to be more competitive and reduce their costs. Such online courses place the initiative on students who must really yearn for their education and be passionate about the subject.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is credited for being a fine educational establishment. MIT also offers an expansive list of MOOCs. Critics question whether MOOCs offer a quality education but all systems of learning have their flaws and none is perfect.

Education is a complex and fragmented industry, which makes it hard to gain scale. Even Oxford University announced it is producing its first MOOC on the edx platform. Udacity has launched a series of nano-degrees in technology-focused courses and even in self-driving cars. Coursera has shifted its emphasis to employability, where firms integrate Coursera into their own learning portals.

Traditional universities should sit up as MOOCs become a threat because they are solving two problems. The first is the cost of learning, not just in terms of money but also time, because formal education takes a set period to complete. MOOCs tend to make the content digestible and flexible.

Second, employers are increasingly demanding a quick solution from the education system to provide people with the desired qualification.

To survive, traditional universities need to mark themselves out as a premium experience, become more modular and make their products more accessible by teaching online.

People are likely to invest in education if it confers a qualification that others will recognise. They also need to know which skills are useful in the first place and the relevant subject to be taken, rather than a whole course which has no subject specified.

Cheng Choon Fei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2018, with the headline 'Traditional universities need to move with the times'. Print Edition | Subscribe