A few years ago before my son went to University I talked about the fact that much of what universities do could be automated using online media. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was wrong. A few years later, I heard that he was doing almost all his course work from the library because almost all lectures were available online.
The simple fact is that in most courses, the vast bulk of material taught in first and second year does not need a lecturer, does not need a tutor, nor even for the student to be on the same continent as any of the academics. Yes, there are some essential elements of science like lab work that cannot be done at home, and whilst arts have no labs, unlike sciences which lend themselves to multiple answer quizzes as there is usually only one correct answer, arts will continue to need essays marked. So, yes academics will continue to be needed to run labs and mark essay-like course work. But why hire a third rate academic for your University to run a first year course, when you can buy in that course from first rate academics using the very best visual presentation media?
As such, the bulk of “normal” teaching is going to become increasingly delivered through new media without the need for academics. And as this becomes the norm, this form of delivery will become cost effective for smaller and smaller classes and more and more niche subject until there are whole University courses in “standard” subjects that barely need an academic.
This article tries to explore the implication of this change
Increasingly, students, particularly from energy-poor nations in Africa, will avoid the cost of going to Energy rich nations in Europe with their high cost Universities and find ways to get the same education staying at home. At first, in local institutions, but increasingly these “Universities” will diminish in size as they move to the places where they are needed, rather than the students moving to the Universities.
The demise of third rate politicised academics
One of the biggest shifts is going to be in the politicised leaning of course content. At the moment, we send kids off to University … where in some cases they are literally brainwashed by politicised academics for several years. But as students will need to have less and less of the course delivered by individual academics in the privacy of the lecture theatre, and THOSE PAYING, get a real chance to review and decide whether they will to pay for the politicised brainwashing delivered by some lecturers, it is very likely that the extremist political propaganda coming from third rate extremist left-leaning lecturers, will be replaced by high-quality largely middle of the road politically material for the core academic teaching. Whilst it is not clear whether the young now tend to be left leaning because they are young, or through indoctrination by academics, the end of the brainwashing fiasco that occurs in many universities must have a profound impact on politics.
And also with less third rate academics needed for teaching, there will be less third rate academics to engage in politicised research (see below on research)
But in addition student life is also likely to fundamentally change. Increasingly there will not be the need to be at a central location where there is a “Student life”. Indeed, there will be no need for student to fit in with the stilted academic calendar, no doubt designed to allow lecturers the summer to go on their endless political campaigns. Indeed, with most of these third rate politicised academics on the dole, there will be far fewer politicised marches being organised for the brainwashed students to attend. However, not all present student life is daft political campaigns. But as the old model of students attending en masse at one time to sit in a lecture and listen to a third rate academic politically brain wash them disappears, toward individual learning when it suits the individual student, to a large extent, along with the politicised rubbish, many of the actual benefits of student life will also disappear. But does that matter? Could that be achieved by other means? It seems likely that along with the bath water of politicised rubbish endemic on many campuses, the baby of beneficial experience of student life may disappear.
Increasing automation going further and deeper into academia
At first, this “automation” of teaching will focus on the core learning in common subjects in first and second year, that is after the students from diverse backgrounds have come to a common standard and before students enter final years where they tend to learn the latest or the more niche information. But increasingly more and more niche subjects will be automated and course content revised to take account of the very latest research. Eventually, whilst course tutors and marking will involve people, it seems likely that in many subjects almost entire University degrees (except practicals & essay marking) could be automated by online media content. That will fundamentally change the make up of staff in the University. Out goes the useless third rate academics able to brainwash a captive audience of wet-behind the ears school leavers, and in will come high-quality academics in a few select centres buzzing with many more people whose job it is to deliver the online media content.
A new niche: hand delivered courses
It will also fundamentally change the experience of students, and indeed, I can see that a few Universities will begin to specialise in “hand delivered” courses where a lot more money is paid to get very capable academics to give “old fashioned” lectures to relatively small groups.
But if teaching largely disappears from the job role of most academics, what then is left but research? And let us be honest, the quality of research of many academics is absolutely appalling amounting to little more than politicised diatribes on a seldom read blog. For example, anyone can write a paper asserting that Trump is a liar – however, when that paper contains absolutely no substantive proof and is clearly just a political vendetta against a politician …. WHAT IS THE POINT? Who reads that rubbish? As for the “research” which is an endless diatribe of anti-sceptic ad hominems? Again … why is anyone paying for it?
The problem for the academics involved in this endless political campaigning, is that the only reason the public puts up with their nonsense, is because we needed teachers to teach students. But when that work is automated, and marking doesn’t even need to be done by someone on the same continent but could be farmed out to someone in an Indian “mark centre”, we just won’t need the academics who produce the zero-grade politicised “research” that comes from so many. Instead, academics will be employed to do specific research … when needed …. not research because they happen to be a third rate teacher at a University and they have spare time, but are without the intellectual prowess to do anything but run political campaigns pretending it is “research”.
That strongly suggests that whole areas of “research” which are currently being done, because we have lecturers with spare time on their hands and no particularly skill in any useful area of research …. will simply fall by the wayside. Instead, the focus will be much more on doing research where there is felt to be a need to do research. And indeed, to pay to do research only when the research is good.
As such research and teaching is likely to be increasingly seen as two very distinct activities. And indeed, as the link between teaching and research loosens, it cannot be long before it is realised that there is absolutely no need to use Universities to do much of the research and there is no reason at all not to use private research bodies.
As such, I suspect one of the great debates in the next few decades is going to be over the purpose of PhDs. Is it, as many believe, a recognition of good research, or is it, merely a post graduate forming of learning? Indeed, might we start to see a new concept of “Post Post-graduate” qualifications? In other words, that PhDs increasingly become seen as another layer of learning and that the real research activity only starts taking place after a person has gained this initial qualification in research?
There is also a massive problem in some subjects where PhD students are going into research areas where the fundamental information has not changed in decades or even centuries, but they are still being asked to research something “new”. There is clearly very little new to research, so instead these PhDs are increasingly about reorganising the same information – using highly dubious techniques. For example, one I’ve come across a lot is to imply “the ancients lied” and that “we know better” so “here is my knew (often politically acceptable) idea”. Indeed, increasingly in social “sciences” we see the same material just being re-interpreted to fit the latest left-wing political fad. Sure, being able to make political propaganda out of benign facts is a skill – one highly sought after in politics – but really? Does that count as “research” fit for a PhD?
The big issues, is how do you continue learning post-graduation, in a subject that hardly changes, when the demand is to “research” something “new”. It’s not realistic. Instead, in these subjects, we should drop the requirement for post-graduate qualifications to find something “new” and instead see them as just an extension of learning the same old material to a higher standard.
But likewise, in science, as research becomes increasingly niche, researchers need to be more and more knowledgeable before they can effectively contribute to push the subject forward. That again, is increasingly unlikely within a mere three years from graduating.
As such, I think the idea that anyone can or indeed, should get a PhD for original research in the three years after graduating is becoming increasingly ridiculous. Instead, there will be more focus on post-graduate qualifications, either masters, or perhaps PhDs will become like a masters with a post-PhD recognition of having done “research” of some type (not qualification) being increasingly used. In addition, the old idea that a PhD should take around 3 years, looks increasingly bizarre. In some areas, research needs many decades to come to fruition. There is also vital research that needs doing that could be done in a few months. Why should some research be strung out to fit the requirements of a PhD, and other be curtailed, or attempted as a series of disjointed projects to fit the PhD criteria? It would be more useful to society if a “PhD” (or equivalent) were a post-graduate qualification that included SOME research, and not the make-believe that a three year project is some Utopian time-scale for doing a research project.
But most critically, as the number of lecturers diminish, the number of academics with idle time on their hands to do or supervise research will also diminish. That means people are going to have to be paid to do research (which was previously tagged on an partly paid for by the teaching role). As such the cost of doing research in Universities will increase and that in turn means it will be at a more competitive rate which will attract outside private research organisations. But for obvious reasons the left-leaning academics, with their lengthy holidays, endless tours abroad to conferences, endless pontificating to the press pushing politics dressed up as “science” etc, etc, are going to strongly resist this privatisation of research. But it will happen, mainly because outside organisations will be a lot more cost effective, far more willing to adapt to what is required, rather than demanding research fits their timetables, but also because the concept of a “PhD” will become increasingly confused, seen as a relic from the age of politicised academia and thus irrelevant.
Do we need as many Universities?
Teaching resources will be increasingly centralised and research is going to move to institutions focussing on research. What is left of the traditional “Universities”?
I can foresee a time when the majority of people in some subjects get degrees without ever setting foot in their “University” – although only in the sense of a physical place, because they will actually be attending it virtually.
As teaching becomes increasingly carried out at the location that is convenient to the learner and not the teaching staff, as research increasingly is focussed in institutions tailor made to do research rather than using teachers as second rate researchers, there seems very little need to have as many Universities as there now are in the UK. I’m sure people will always value diversity – so I wouldn’t suggest anything less than perhaps half a dozen Universities. But realistically, when providing online content, size dramatically brings down costs and there will be enormous cost and quality benefits to increasing University size. So, even if they don’t merge in name, behind the scenes, they will start becoming part of “university groups”.
University and older & employed people
Increasingly older people are going back to University and some of them doing research. In part this is for the social benefits of meeting others, so the learning experience is just an excuse for a natter. But also, there are people who go back to University mid-career and for them, the learning experience & qualifications is all they desire.
The present structure of University teaching which requires full time attendance for several years at a place of the University staff’s choosing, puts off many prospective older people. But, in future, when learning is far more automated, there will be no need to go to the University, because most of the time the University can come to the student.
As such, one of the highest growth areas in further education is undoubtedly going to be learning and research by older people conducted in a way that suits them and not the University staff.
This again, will have a profound effect, because unlike wet-behind the ears students who will gullibly accept the left-wing extremist brain-washing that occurs in many courses, older people recognise and will resist this political nuttery and reject the left-wing bias that infests many Universities. This will be a shock to academics who have had it easy with the easily brainwashed gullible school kids they are used to. It will also be a huge boom for those Universities that are not employing politicised nut-cases as lecturers as they will attract the vast majority of older learners.
- Massive job losses
- A reduction in the number of actual Universities (even if the names remain, they will be linked behind the scenes)
- A separation of teaching and research with the growth of external privatised research
- Everything points to a reduction in the left-leaning content of Universities. I doubt that they will ever become predominantly right-leaning, but I can’t see the extremist idiots that infest current academia being there in 30 years time.
- Increasing focus on older people
- The end of “student life”?
Effect on society
Through a combination of the cost-cutting move by the press to copy-n-paste and the left leaning nature of nutty academics, we’ve seen a proliferation of ultra extremist idiocy coming out and being pushed in the press in the last few decades.
But automation and the cost cutting of the “nutty academics” behind these extremist idiocy is going to severely trim the feathers of these idiotic campaigns. Many academics currently use their public positions as a means of funding nearly full time politicised advocacy both through their brainwashing-teaching and through an endless torrent of politicised “research”. It is quite feasible to suggest that the left in politics only survives through the public funding of nutty academics who bombard the media with “news” based on their “research”.
Pull the rug from under these nutty academics, and the energy that keeps the left going, could disappear, meaning that the “extreme” left politics with their nutty economics could disappear over the next few decades.
In contrast, the endless torrent of abuse from academia against those with political views they dislike, will largely end. So, the right will become more acceptable just as the left loses its mojo. That suggests a move in politics away from the left toward POPULARIST right leaning. By popularist, I mean causes that ordinary people support. So, whilst politics may be more right leaning, that does not mean parties that current are considered “right” will be the beneficiaries.