When compared to the age of humanity, the university is a baby. And although it began as a simple, slowly-moving institution offering lectures to well-to-do future preachers, lawyers and doctors, in evolutionary terms it has changed radically in a relatively short period of time.
Moving from a mostly regional entity offering the trivium and the quadrivium, the academy is now truly global, providing so many specialised educational options that it would be impossible for even the largest institutions to offer them all.
As transportation improved through the 19th and 20th centuries, the place-boundness of students expanded from regional to national to global. Students could easily travel increasing distances to attend schools offering desired specialisations.
It became commonplace in the late 1900s for students to travel for their 'junior year abroad' or explore graduate and postgraduate opportunities across the globe. Students from every country began to travel to the US, UK, Canada and other countries with advanced higher education systems to find excellent educational opportunities.
Today the university has - to a great extent - shaken off its 'place-boundness'. Many aspects of the university can now move electronically and be delivered to students all over the world.
As higher education saturated most of the territories of the more highly advanced systems - such as in the US and the UK - and as the pressure of a struggling economy and rising costs place increasing pressure on higher education to be financially self-sustaining and stable, it is not surprising that, subsequently, universities are physically sending out satellite campuses. Much like the early church sent out missionaries, to seek new entrepreneurial opportunities in less developed global territories.
And so it did. Many US universities have operations abroad. Meanwhile, for-pay colleges such as the University of Phoenix quickly set up shop in most major American cities.
Perhaps emboldening traditional higher education, and certainly contributing to their financial challenges, the American for-profit academy has to some extent both set an example of entrepreneurial opportunity and success, as well as increased the necessity for its more traditional counterpart to seek new opportunities in a much wider radius.
In the 1900s, higher education in the UK was tuition-free [although not for many international students]. Beginning in the 21st Century, universities in England began to charge small tuition fees, at least relative to the US. Starting at about £1,000 (US$1,630) per year, England's tuition fees are likely to rise to nearly 10 times that rate in less than a decade. Higher education in Scotland is still tuition-free, but there is little expectation of that lasting much longer.
With the enormous and rapidly growing financial pressure on British higher education, it makes perfect sense that these universities would begin branching out and capitalising on potential global opportunities as their American counterparts have done in so many ways.
The US institutions that have been successful in their ventures have increased their financial stability. Certainly that concept could work both ways. And the nearly universally known 'brand names' of many English universities is another selling point in their favour.
It should be no surprise that the University of Warwick has decided to try its hand at this new model. With strengths in applied sciences and engineering, the university seems to be a potential good fit as one of 17 bidders for a new research campus being sought by New York City.
Warwick meets the three 'Ns' - niche, new and fitting the needs of modern higher education. The university has developed a niche for emerging fields that addresses the identified educational needs of this particular city.
It will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a turning tide representing a trend in higher education import to accompany the predominant higher education export model in the US. How successful a school can be in importing education to a more developed country, like the US, remains to be seen.
If the University of Warwick wins the bid and is able to deliver a high quality product at a competitive price that meets an existing demand, it certainly has the basic criteria to be successful. The fact that it is one of the most progressive and highly-ranked research universities in the UK should increase the likelihood of success.
Still, in general, there is no way to accurately predict how much change will occur, or to what extent that change will impact both on higher education and society. However, we are in for escalating change that will undoubtedly have an increasing impact on our global community and, in the next few decades, may result in universities being profoundly different from what they are now.
We can either fear and resist that change, which will likely not serve us well, or we can embrace the change and find new ways for change to enhance who we are now and who we will become.
The university began as a plodding, regionally bound land turtle and has evolved today into a high-speed, (partially) virtual rabbit that can teleport instantly to any place in the world where there is an electronic rabbit-hole.
As the global competition ensues, the newest rabbit out of the higher education hat may in the near future be celebrating its success with high tea. In this case, turn-about is certainly fair, just and - as competition has traditionally been in other arenas - healthy, making us all a bit better in some way. To that, I say, Cheers!
* Dr Mary Landon Darden is the author of Beyond 2020: Envisioning the future of universities in America, published by The American Council on Education and Rowman and Littlefield in 2009. She is the dean of the San Antonio Center of Concordia University Texas.
This should be a great time to expand operations. The percentage of US high school graduates who immediately enrolled in college following graduation has been trending up for decades. According to the Labor Department, it hit a high of 70.1% in 2009 with only a slight decline to 68.1% in 2010.
I'd bet there are those on this side of the pond who will enjoy the tea.
See chart and sources here
Good stuff. No reason why Warwick's venture across the pond shouldn't work. Like the Oxbridge schools, London School of Economics, University of Edinburgh, and University of Bristol, it is one of several UK schools with outstanding reputations and programmes.
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