The Multiversity and Learning on a Shoestring Budget

An excellent article has just appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement: “Cap and Gown Learning on a Shoestring Budget.”

It focuses on low- and no-cost educational options that are starting to emerge as Open Educational Resources are not only accumulate, but are organized into groups and programs, and are (only very gradually) associated with credentials.

One sentence in particular caught my attention:

“some businesses that reimburse employees’ tuition fees are also becoming interested in free- and low-cost online education providers. This could put more pressure on traditional universities to accept academic credits from outside sources…”

I would only qualify this compelling claim by saying that this would put more pressure on parts of the university that respond very directly to businesses that reimburse employees’ tuition fees. This would include a range of disciplines and programs, but only a part of what the university offers. Particularly affected would be professional graduate programs (e.g., business itself), but large parts would remain unaffected (e.g., the general BA).

It may be helpful to recall that Clark Kerr (Berkeley U’s president during the tumultuous ’60’s; pictured above trying to placate student protest) characterized the modern university as a “Multiversity.” This refers to a loose collection of communities or groups rather than a unity implied in the term university:

the community of the undergraduate and the community of the graduate; the community of the humanist, the community of the social scientist, and the community of the scientist; the communities of the professional schools; the community of all the nonacademic personnel; the community of the administrators.

The point is that the university is a conglomerate, not a monolith: some communities, some programs and functions cobbled together in an institution that has encompassed everything from agriculture to zymology are more vulnerable than others. The multiplicity of elements that the “Multiversity” implies is certain to continue to change, with some elements being more susceptible to alternative models of organization and accreditation than others.

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