Monday, 19 June 2017 05:02

Blended and Hybrid Global Delivery of Higher Education

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BY IAIN MARTIN

There is a vibrant future for globally linked higher education, even though the future of dedicated standalone overseas bricks and mortar campuses is very limited. The high levels of capital investment required and the inability to rapidly respond to market changes make these investments very high stakes indeed. There may be situations where a very specific need for high levels of infrastructure (e.g. medicine and engineering) where this may work as a model, but I suspect that this will be the exception in coming years.

We at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) are seeing considerable innovation in the delivery of education to students who spend most of their study time in their home country. ARU serves 24,000 students studying in the U.K. alongside 12,000 international students studying for one of our degrees with an overseas partner. But I struggle to see how proposal for an overseas campus that would be worth developing in the face of more flexible alternatives.

It is time for innovation: ideas that are desirable, deliverable with current technology, and economically viable; and ARU is always looking for transnational education (TNE) ideas that measure well against these three parameters.

MODELS OF  GLOBAL DELIVERY

There is no shortage of models for the delivery of TNE. The challenge is implementing an approach that is sustainable both academically and financially. The next few years will continue to see new approaches tried with perhaps a few surviving the initial burst of enthusiasm. The three current models:

1. Partner-based models sit at heart of our current TNE initiatives. It is likely that this is the space in which new or finessed models will evolve in the short to medium term. There is real opportunity to grow the depth and size of these relationships and certainly, we are looking to this with several partners.

There are many possible variations on the partner model. For example, the University of Arizona has talked about a network of micro-campuses developed in partnership with a range of universities and colleges is one manifestation of this concept. We have many Chinese partners where the students are studying for one of our degrees, spending three years in China and one year in the U.K. The students work with our staff both face-to-face and online and use learning resources developed in partnership. Although they are based at a Chinese University for their first three years, they see themselves as students of two institutions from day one. Our view is that these models offer great opportunities for the future, providing benefit for both students and the in stitutions.

There are many benefits for university and partner in evolving models of TNE and, perhaps more importantly, great potential gains for students. Done well, we can see quality outcomes with a reduced cost of delivery; an opportunity to greatly widen the reach of the university; flexible matching of delivery to users’ must-have requirements; and a real ability to support the wider mission of the university.

2. There are real opportunities for partnership based global delivery of synchronous and asynchronous blended and face-to-face education. With evolving multipoint video conferencing technology and better global broadband provision, the options for real-time online interactions with other students and teachers improves to provide synchronous blending. The concept of asynchronous blending is the idea of periods of online only delivery structurally linked to a period(s) of campus delivery. This is a very flexible approach that, when designed appropriately, could deliver many of the benefits of spending a full three to four years overseas at a dramatically reduced cost for students.

3 I will not spend much time talking about the pure online model. It is self-explanatory and with continued evolution in both the educational technology and perhaps more importantly cultural acceptance of online delivery the opportunities will continue to grow.

THE NEW MODEL  FOR EDUCATION

The emerging commercial global identities of the past five years have been dominated by two characteristics. The first are models that act as a bridge between consumer and provider, Uber and Airbnb being two high-profile examples. The second would be personalization of cost vs.level of service; the budget airline model being a prime example where the basic fare simply gets you from A to B, and everything else is an extra.

Whatever you may think about the ethics of business model that underpins Uber and Airbnb, what they have done very successfully is link a service provider and a consumer in a way that just a few years ago was neither realized or desired. If Uber is a taxi company and Airbnb a new hotel company, what in this model is a university? It depends on what we think the role of higher education provider is, and this again will be nuanced depending on the segment of activity we are talking about: a first undergraduate degree versus a specialist vocationally related PG qualification,for example.

Taking the budget airline analogy, the base price might simply be delivery of the core educational outcomes at the minimum process point possible, and any more is additional. For example, face-to-face tutorials, time on campus, work experience, and/or careers advice would be additional. I recognize that this profoundly challenges many of the notions surrounding a traditional degree.

If we look at a standard degree as an educational journey where we know the starting point, the ending point and the mandatory way-points, could we envisage the role of a global aggregator and integrator of higher education provision? The answer is conceptually yes, but with profound structural and practical barriers.

A global university aggregator would have a range of linked education providers who make available online and blended modules with registration, authentication, education mapping, and records of achievement and revenue collection. But what about issues of quality control, national standards, funding, financial aid and equivalencies? Further, what would this structure do to the incumbent brick and mortar campuses?

Despite these challenges, it does seem possible that a well-run aggregator model will emerge. Whether this focuses on both under and post-graduate delivery or just on the latter is unclear. This is not simply about online provision, if the truly personalized global degree is a desirable outcome then blending, either synchronous or asynchronous could and probably should feature in the educational map we provide our students.

The future of global TNE is exciting and challenging. Existing providers are going to have to work increasingly hard to find new sustainable models. We are optimistic but in no way underestimate the challenges.

—Prof. Iain Martin is the Vice Chancellor of Anglia Ruskin University, U.K. He has also been Vice President and Deputy Vice Chancellor University of New South Wales in Australia and Deputy Vice Chancellor of University of Auckland in New Zealand.

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