New Players in Higher Education – Challenges for Universities

A few days ago I wrote a post about some the future challenges facing higher education over the next ten years. In that post I covered some of my initial thoughts about the challenges of open content and that I believed the key for universities will be in developing rigorous and consistent assessment in order to help maintain their reputations.

Related to both of these issues is the rise of new players in higher education in what will be an increasingly competitive business. I had planned to write something on this in the near future but I have been spurred into action by two links I came across this morning. The first was a link to a site that provides comparison services for online courses at universities and colleges in the US.

Levelling the Playing Field?

Sites like should increase the ability of students to shop around for education services. The ability to ‘comparison shop’ could radically change the way higher education is priced and the types of services offered as universities seek to differentiate themselves as they have never had to in the past. It also means that new providers of higher education services can compete more evenly by being included in such sites.

Media Companies the New Education Providers?

The second link that I came across is perhaps even more critical. There has, of course, been much written about the fate of the newspaper industry over the last few years as sales fall. Well it turns out that more than half of the Washington Post’s revenue comes from education and this figure is growing. I had a look at Kaplan Education which is the Washington Post’s education division. They offer a wide range of education services – including Kaplan University.

So does this mean that the future of traditional print media companies is in education? Maybe. I guess the point is that any knowledge based enterprise could in fact set itself up as a viable higher education provider. How about the Guardian University, the BBC University or Google University?

Other Players?

What other players might emerge? Well for the professional vocational studies I suspect that the professional bodies may become much more important in providing education services. At the moment they focus on post graduate professional accreditation and continuing professional development. The latter is an area that universities see themselves as being a key provider of in the future. This will put them in direct competition with the professional bodies. At the same time the massification of higher education is leading to an increase in the number of students differentiating themselves by getting a higher degree qualification. If these professional Masters degrees are not seen as being of high enough quality then the professional bodies may decide to offer those themselves and apply the rigour that they feel entry to their profession deserves.

Certainly, whatever happens, the barriers to entry are lowering and traditional higher education providers are going to have to adapt to the new realities of the information age.

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