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Keeping up with students of the future

Contrasting visions of the direction of international higher education – from MOOC-like masters degrees to undergraduate programmes in seven countries for students who want a true global experience – were presented to the first “Student of the Future” conference organised by Dutch-based StudyPortals.

The global study choice platform held the event at Groningen University in the Netherlands on 5 April, and attracted over 100 top minds working in international education.

They came together to consider the needs and expectations of the next generation of students and the future education landscape.

Opening speaker Dr Zvi Galil, dean of computing at Georgia Tech in the United States, told how his university had teamed up with the American multinational telecommunications corporation AT&T, and Udacity – the for-profit educational organisation offering massive open online courses or MOOCs – to create a MOOC-like masters degree in computer science.

Believed to be the first of its kind in the world and enrolling 3,358 starters in the autumn of 2015, Galil said: “It has caused an earthquake.” Last December, 20 initial students graduated from a pilot of the course.

The fees are just US$6,600 compared to Georgia Tech’s full-time residential masters in computer science, which costs out-of-state residential students US$42,000 to enrol.

Contrasting make-up of students

The student make-up on the new part-time online course contrasts sharply with the full-time programme.

Galil said that “79% of the students are domestic; exactly the reverse of the on-campus students studying the masters degree in computer science where four out of five are international. So, we are not cannibalising the system.”

Students study exactly the same programme whether online or as residential students, with the MOOC-like course taking between two-and-a-half and three years to complete in contrast to a year-and-a half for full-time residential students.

With student debt and accessibility major issues for higher education in the United States, Galil claimed his MOOC-like masters was creating “accessibility through affordability and technology.”

Not for everyone

But he told University World News that the MOOC style of studying for a degree was not for everyone. “International students who want to get a visa from US immigration to work in the United States will probably continue to go for the residential course despite the cost.

“But for Americans already in the IT industry, they can get a masters degree while they continue working – and for a fee that is a fraction of the cost of the full-time course.”

Galil also said learning online would probably appeal less to students on bachelor programmes who want the experience of leaving home and studying with others in their age range: “So universities will be around for a long-time to come.”

Other American universities, including the University of Illinois and MIT, were also interested in offering MOOC-related degrees and Galil expected the market to grow, especially for students who had already enjoyed a bachelor degree experience and now wanted a higher degree to improve their job prospects.

Now for something completely different

In complete contrast to the idea of part-time learning while earning, a radical new four-year full-time undergraduate programme was recently launched for the really globally minded students of the future, the conference heard.

Launched by the Minerva School at the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont University Consortium in San Francisco, the course will appeal to adventurous liberal arts and science students who want to see the world while studying.

Students will do their first year in San Francisco and then move as a cohort to study together for a semester in Berlin before moving on for semesters in five other major international cities: Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul and London.

Marielle van der Meer, Minerva’s managing director for Europe and the Middle East, told the conference that higher education had failed to keep pace with the way the world had changed over the last 100 years, with big lecture theatres still the norm for many students.

“We believe it is probably easier to design a whole university from scratch and so we’ve reinvented a four-year undergraduate degree programme, designed to teach students the skills they will need in an ever-changing world.

“We’ve completely redesigned the curriculum with no lectures and no exams. Instead we offer small seminars and fully active learning.”

Lecturers will give live seminars online to groups of no more than 19 students wherever they are in the world and assessment will be based on active monitored feedback and contributions from the students rather than by exams and traditional methods.

Radical new liberal arts and science course

One of the first students on the ‘pioneering year’ attended the StudyPortals Groningen conference and spoke for the ‘students of the future’.

Zoey Haar from upstate New York studied abroad in Spain while at high school, and told University World News she was delighted to be among the first cohort on the radical new liberal arts and science programme.

She joined 27 other ‘pioneers’ two years ago in what will turn out to be a five-year programme, for the first cohort of students has been out on work placement while the second cohort of 112 students catches up with them.

Together, they will embark on their world study tour, starting in Berlin this autumn, where Zoey hopes to look at the way Germany is handling the refugee crisis.

“Although I was applying to a university that didn’t really exist two years ago, my parents were thrilled for me, especially about the US$10,000 study fees. I was a bit nervous, but I had studied abroad before and we are all a bunch of really adventurous students.”

Tomorrow’s jobs don’t yet exist

The conference heard from several speakers that the new emphasis on ‘employability’ shouldn’t mean simply equipping students for the current world of work.

Entrepreneur and futurist Yuri van Geest, ‘Dutch ambassador’ of the Silicon Valley based Singularity University, told the conference that “80% of current jobs will be gone in the next 20 years”.

So universities need to respond and put emphasis on developing critical skills.

They also need to give more emphasis to careers advice, especially for international students, said Nannette Ripmeester, who worked on labour mobility at the European Commission before founding Expertise in Labour Mobility, which helps corporate and higher education clients understand global mobility trends.

“The students of tomorrow will want to be able to work flexibly, often working from home,” she said.

“Employability doesn’t mean delivering what the labour market wants. It means developing transferable skills, which are up to date.

“When I meet recruiters they are always changing what they are looking for. Ten years ago no one was looking for inter-country cultural sensitivities. They are now.”

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist who runs De la Cour Communications. He regularly blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his

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