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What will the university of tomorrow look like?

Cloud created by:

Gráinne Conole
31 October 2009

Prompted by the mad cap videos by @mweller and co for their forthcoming presentations at the JISC online conference I've decided to create this cloud to share and discuss ideas around how universities of the future might look like. Here are some questions to stimulate the debate:

  • In a world where increasingly both contetn and expertise is freely available, what does a university offer?
  • What are the ways in which technologies are likely to impact on education?
  • What new business models will we need in the future?
  • Will the current set up and number of universities stay the same or are we likely to see a radical reduction?
  • Are students attitudes towards education changing, is it becoming less valuable?

Feel free also to add extra questions to this list!


Extra content

Some resources I have found useful for thinking about the university of the future: from Open EdTech 2009

e-Skills UK (2009) Technology Counts: IT and telecoms insights 2008: available at

Educause Learning Initiative/New Media Consortium (2009) The Horizon Report 2009: available at

European Schoolnet (2008) Learning2.0: The Impact of Web2.0 Innovation on Education and Training in Europe: available at

Futurelab (2009) Beyond Current Horizons: Evaluating the future of the UK's Education System. Scenarios (forthcoming) available at

Open University UK (2008) Open Thinking on HE seminar series, not publicly available (I'm sure someone on cloudworks can link this for us!).

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (2008) OECD Schooling Scenarios: available at,3343,en_2649_39263231_2078922_1_1_1_37455,00.htm

TLRP (2008) Education, Globalisation and the Knowledge Economy: available at

Gartner's latest top ten tech index:

Helen Beetham
21:27 on 2 November 2009 (Edited 11:48 on 3 November 2009)

Embedded Content


Paul McConaughy
2:06pm 31 October 2009

Dr. Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University, recently posted a monograph on the World Grant Ideal. There is a great deal of insight on the future of universities in it.  I have submitted the link.

Gráinne Conole
2:40pm 31 October 2009

Brilliant thanks for this Paul - I think this is a really important topic which all institutions need to be considering. I don't think we can assume status quo. Our own institution has a project called SocialLearn - I'll add a link - which is tackling some of these issues. From the website:

For 3000 years education has made the learner adapt to the system. SocialLearn [1] aims to reverse this and make the education system adapt to the learner. SocialLearn is a project initiated by The Open University to combine the best of the values and approaches found in the new social web technologies with those of higher education. This will create new modes of recognised and supported learning experiences for a wide clientele.

Paul McConaughy
3:12pm 31 October 2009

Thaks for sharing SocialLearn,  I will share it with others here in Michigan. I look forward to reviewing it more closely.

Antonella Esposito
3:45pm 31 October 2009

Open EDTech 2009, the think tank organized in Barcelona the 19thh and 20th October by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, just dealt with the topic "Create the university of the future". This is the WIKI in which collects the work groups'' recommendations and the Call for Action as the final product of all sessions.

Gráinne Conole
3:47pm 31 October 2009

Sounds really interesting - have added the wiki as a link. Seems like alot of people are beginning to think about this....

Antonella Esposito
3:53pm 31 October 2009

Thanks Grainne for adding it. Unfortunately I have also added it in the meanwhile ;-) and I have not permission to delete it. Sorry for the mistake!

Gráinne Conole
4:10pm 31 October 2009

No worries have deleted mine!

Paul McConaughy
5:47pm 31 October 2009

Isn't this amazing. This cloud hasn't been up for a day yet and look at it grow!

I found out about it on Twitter where I am @MiNutrition

Gráinne Conole
6:39pm 31 October 2009

I know I know it's incredible huh! Lots of good resources and links being added. Will go seek u out on twitter!

Paul Lefrere
11:00am 1 November 2009

Talking with attendees and speakers at Sloan-C 2009, I heard a lot about the need to look beyond today's high demand for higher education, to tomorrow's needs. Here are some of the issues for them:

1) The need to quickly raise the perceived relevance of universities (and their research) to key groups that currently provide the money for universities to function - this is a necessary complement to today's petitions to agencies who fund university research, asking them not to demand higher relevance 

2) Related to 1), the need for universities to do a better job in anticipating the challenges facing society and telling the world about their successes

3) Revisiting the notion of "graduateness" to ensure that tomorrow's students are adequately prepared for a more challenging world, and hence to increase the ROI (return on investment) from higher education, eg

Gráinne Conole
12:17pm 1 November 2009

All key points Paul - I do think that universities are going to have to really think hard about there mission and there place in society. I suspect there will be quite a shake up of the system, which may be no bad thing.

Martin Weller
10:39am 2 November 2009

I think what's possibly interesting when you think about the future is the degree to which we allow other factors to impact upon education, eg climate change, economic forces, changes in work place. I don't know whether this is just a case of projecting and so looking for big things to hook it onto, or whether we think education will be influenced by these perhaps to an extent we haven't previously known.

Paul McConaughy
1:52pm 2 November 2009

I think, Martin, that the other side of the question is important too... how will university influence/impact  other factors. This is an important question, especially for research universities.


Giota Alevizou
10:17am 3 November 2009 (Edited 10:20am 3 November 2009)

An interesting article in the New York Times yesterday is entitled 'Teach your teachers teach well' provides food for thought on the educational role of universities. And certainly makes Cloudworks a living proof for addressing some of the challenges raised in the article.

Interviewing Cathy Casserly (from Carnegie Foundation) yesterday for one of our Olnet research projects, an interesting insight came about regarding universities, experimentation in an OER context and  'networks of improvement communities'. This relates to work they are doing at Carnegie to address what does not work with existing educational practices/methods in some fields/disciplines resulting to failure and student marginalisation. I don't know if this is totally relevant: Just a thought that perhaps the role of the university should be redefined not only to faciliate success, but also to address and alieviate failure and risk in the field of teaching and learning?

Lou McGill
2:16pm 5 November 2009

just posted a blog post about this session of the jisc online conference jiscel09 and included the three videos from Martin Weller, Rob Howe and Graham Atwell.

I am also collating response videos aswell.

Do sign up to the conference to join in the discussions there too.

If you plan on doing a response video or present your own version of the future do let me know as we will be giving three free places to the best videos.


Gráinne Conole
3:00pm 5 November 2009

Great thanks Lou - looks like being a great session! Could start a trend of people wearing silly wigs ;-)

Lou McGill
3:13pm 5 November 2009

I'm trying to grow a beard specially for the occasion; )

5:25am 9 November 2009

Yu know, I'm always amazed by unis not looking at demographics. The one 'take home' I got from this one?

"In the next ten years, more people will graduate (from unis) than in the history of the world" (and then go home to play video games :) ). A radical reduction? (in the number of unis) Hmmmm. Of course if you only speak English, you'll have to teach people from the largest Anglais speaking country = China.

OK. So the questions might be; "Are social attitudes towards education changing?" "Are unis about educating students with the disciplines of old professions or are are they about preparing students for professions which are beginning to appear?" (like web design, and I promise to say nothing about this narrow column on an half empty page)

Malcolm seems to have the right idea. But looking around at unis' web sites, and with Mr. White's comment in the back of my mind;

White says students will need to be schooled in new-media literacy so they can manage all the different streams of information and collaborate at a distance: "These are key skills for the new century."

The unis sure have a lot of learning and collaboration to do, before they start schooling. But at least we know they will market as inter-institutions. I'm just thinking; MITOUYOX does't quite work does it?

Gráinne Conole
8:35am 9 November 2009

Good points - have added a link to a keynote I heard recently by Keri Facer who was talking about students of tomorrow. My feeling is that there will still be  a need for educational institutions but that we need to adapt to a social context which is radically different to the context of the past.

Re: narrow column.... I know I know, we are working on it, it works quite weel if there are lots of links and references alongside, but in a cloud like this where it's mainly comments it doesn't look good. One idea we had was to tab between comments and links/references. We plan to get our graphics designer to knock some alternative layouts for us.

Paul Lefrere
10:04am 9 November 2009

I looked back at our starting questions, specifically at "In a world where increasingly both content and expertise is freely available, what does a university offer?" 

I suggest a mix of the following:

- easy access to many cultural and societal heritages and forums for discussing them, plus help if needed in engaging with those heritages (eg new media skills)

- included in the above, methods and networks that others have used to extend or limit their horizons, drawing upon knowledge that is consensual (accepted) as well as knowledge that may be emerging or prospective, contested, rejected, taboo or secret

- hence, ways to engage with other minds, assumptions and cultures, and to encounter and contribute to the world's content and expertise

- the opportunity to go where your mind takes you (time and space to think, plus freedom to think)

- the opportunity to apply what you learn to create wealth that you give back to society, eg by sponsoring scholarships and research

Gráinne Conole
10:12am 9 November 2009

Yes all good points Paul. I think for me though what potentially universities of tomorrow could offer, is pedagogically effective and rich learner pathways; ways of navigating through the complex spectrum of possibilities and choices. In a world which is ever more complex and fragment I think this is going to be really important.

Paul Lefrere
10:55am 9 November 2009

Yes, "effective and rich learner pathways" would be very helpful. Are universities likely to be the sole source or best source of those pathways? I expect to see alternative sources, fed for example by increasingly-smart versions of today's crowd-sourcing / open innovation, with contributions from students, employers and communities of practice. In such a world, universities need to augment their learning pathways with truly distinctive capabilities and roles. This is why I suggested looking again at what universities can offer. There is so much that universities can do to ensure they survive and prosper.

Gráinne Conole
12:33pm 9 November 2009

Great set of reource Helen, thanks for these! Only just spotted them!

Paul Lefrere
9:53pm 9 November 2009

Tomorrow's universities may be more specialized than today, according to the first article in IRRODL's latest issue, ( The title says it all: "Openness, Dynamic Specialization, and the Disaggregated Future of Higher Education" (David Wiley, John Hilton III). 

Sample: "we should soon expect to see higher education institutions making difficult choices to focus on developing truly world-class expertise in one or two of these [current] functions and outsourcing the others."

Antonella Esposito
7:24pm 16 November 2009

Just found an enjoyable parody of (American) universities in the next future: Peter Wood, The shape of (Academic) things to come, National Association of Scholars.

In this dystopia online education plays a key role (also as social and economic impact),: "the huge new demand for online courses and programs turned online education into something like the railroad boom of the nineteenth century". Interestingly, the author imagines online education as an entirely for profit sector, which will be able to replace the Ivy League universities.

Most of libraries would disapperar as well  while (paper) books that can't be stored a become fuel for jets. This sounds horrifying...

Antonella Esposito
1:57pm 9 December 2009

University as a “social wrapper around OERs”. Worth following the evolution of the Peer2Peer University , an open teaching initiative created by Neeru Pahaaria, a Harvard PHD candidate, and co-founded by Creative Commons. The university has just ended its first pilot phase, delivering 6 courses and enrolling for free 90 students. In their words, “The Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses. Think of it as online book clubs* for open educational resources”.
(*It comes to mind the Martin Weller’s post on book club as a course model

‘Hacking education’ is the core idea of Pahaaria’s project: she aims to test a sustainable model of cheap or even for free education.
The committment of Creative Commons  makes this initiative of particular interest for its future development: “P2PU is an initiative outside of the traditional institution that aims to provide the social learning structures, the “social wrapper”, around existing open educational resources.  Because P2PU is a true OER project, testing the bounds of what can work when you empower a community of volunteers and peers to learn for free from each other, CC Learn is interested in where it’s going."

Kevin Amor
11:49am 8 April 2010 (Edited 11:50am 8 April 2010)

[In the UK students have recently had to start paying fees for their tuition.] I think this will lead to a demand driven increase in quality. Students (I wonder if quality would be improved if universities started referring to them as "clients"?) will no longer be grateful for learning tit bits falling from on high.

They will want courses, materials and teaching to match their needs and aspirations, be they purely academic or applied and vocational.  

As an example, my wife's niece recently quit her course at art school because the course was not demanding enough.

8:31am 9 April 2010

Can I go back to basics and and address the "what will unis look like? Is there any chance you might get your graphics guys to run a competition with some professional web designers. In a round about way it addresses the question.

They will LOOK like places which can gather the best approaches to doing something; in this case web design. Communities (particularly ones that believe unis are a social wrapper around OER's) tend to grow where they can SEE ideas being put to use. Just an idea.

I'd like to approach the business models question. But we really don't need to. We just need to count attendees to a site and the number of times "a resource" is downloaded. Same thing really. That is, so long as we know we are in the media business and don't believe we are in the education business.

Paul McConaughy
11:41am 14 April 2010

I added a link to this interview:

From Brookings: In an interview with Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Education, Ben Wildavsky answers questions about the themes of his new book, The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World

Paul McConaughy
12:48pm 14 April 2010

Don't miss this new book:  DIY-U.  See link.

Gráinne Conole
6:31am 15 April 2010

Great links Paul I have recommended them so not you will find you have a reputation - have a look on your profile page! This means you can vote favourite clouds and cloudscapes (which will appear on your favourite list on your profile page) and also you can recommend links.

Paul McConaughy
5:41pm 13 May 2010 (Edited 1:27pm 15 May 2010)

Fantastic list of background reading from Berkman Ctr. for the Communia 2010 conference June, Italy    

Also added an interesting Google book copy of a 2004 book by Richard K. Vedder, Ohio University.

See links,


Paul McConaughy
12:07pm 9 June 2010

First Newspapers, Now Universities by

Philip E. Auerswald

Philip E. Auerswald is Associate Professor at the School of Public Policy, George Mason University, and associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government

See links...

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