Cash-strapped local universities risk closure in future as technological advancements continue to make deep inroads in the education sector. Technology-driven university education will be as disruptive as the likes of Uber and Airbnb are in the transport and hospitality industries respectively.

To stay afloat during the oncoming winds of educational delivery changes, universities and their stakeholders need to address a number of areas.

The number of students registering for distance and online degree courses is soon going to overtake those for in-classrooms ones. Days are gone when university admissions were pegged on availability of hostel space, lecture theatres and physical libraries.

Universities that are not going to expand their capacity to offer online degrees for some course may eventually close certain faculties for lack of students.

The war for online courses has become so intense that universities which have not heavily invested in this mode of delivery will have few or no students. The competition for student enrolments is not limited among local universities; foreign ones are already in the arena.

Since the degree certificates to be issued will not differentiate between students who were in-class and the online ones, the latter is gaining popularity. Universities should embrace online course delivery systems for particular courses to avoid closures or amalgamations like those in the mobile telephony industry.

At present the university lecturing faculty is used to in-class teaching whose days for some courses shall be numbered. Faculty need to be oriented to online methods of teaching, assessing and scoring students’ work.

To cope with anticipated transition to online delivery of courses, forward-looking universities should “make online” the existing learning materials. Renowned universities such as Harvard are throwing in the towel in limiting their dependence on in-classroom learning.

Potential university students have a high propensity of using hand-held devices for reading and participating in social media platforms. Given the freedom to choose, the millennial generation would prefer online courses compared to in-class learning. The millennials want to be in control of when and where to study in order to strike a balance between studies and personal interests. Moreover, the overall cost of online courses will be cheap and without incidental expenses such as transport and college meals.

Employers will be attracted to graduates who can gather, analyze and interpret information from online sources to generating business solutions. Workplaces will require innovative employees who have been prepared to work in automated working environments. University degrees’ curricula should be reviewed to impart relevant employable skills online in preparation for paid or self employment.

The wake-up call for the Commission for University Education is to revise its stringent guidelines on availability of elaborate physical facilities such as classrooms, library etc. for course approvals. Online courses can be offered from limited operational space required for administration, faculty offices and general facilities.

Most books in the library shelves are now available online or as e-books which are read from the comfort of one’s living room.

The Ministry of Education should be at the forefront of managing the wave of online education that shall affect the entire educational system. As a matter of urgency the Ministry should develop and table legislation that would give credence to technology-based education.

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