Needless competition is what is killing higher education, Followers of the Apocalyspe edition

From David Kernohan’s excellent Clay Shirky is our MP3:

The problem Higher Education does face is that it is a marketplace when it doesn’t need to be. We spend billions of dollars forcing universities to compete without any evidence whatsoever that this leads to a better or cheaper product. We spend more on HE than at any point in our history whilst departments are closing, services are withering and talented young academics are leaving in droves because they have reached their mid 30s without finding anything other than temporary hourly-paid work.

While I think this avoids the impact of cost disease (which is the main driver of us spending more on education) it’s right in the main. The prestige wars have generated very little of social worth. In the U.S. we’ve spent billions of dollars as an industry, with each institution in a fight to climb a couple notches up on the Carnegie Ladder, an endeavor that provides no net gain to students, learning, or the communities we serve. Everybody wants to be the new Harvard, or whatever the next step up is. Everybody wants their separate brand. And thus, the design of every course is built from scratch, or outsourced to an increasingly predatory textbook industry.

The only way to mitigate cost disease is to start sharing work in ways which allow us to build off the innovations and work of others in higher education. We need to start pooling effort instead of relentlessly pursuing brand and ego.

Open online courses are a perfect way to start doing that, and that is the true innovation — the direct-to-consumer piece of MOOCs is not revolutionary (has Clay never bought a book to learn about a subject before? They exist!). But the open piece can be, if it means our institutions find new ways to collaborate in our joint mission of educating the next generation. That, and only that, is the true revolution.

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