Report reveals digital's impact on education

THE Australian university, as we know it, could be gone by 2025, with digital and online education set to take over all but the most elite higher education providers, a major report revealed on Wednesday.

Ernst and Young conducted a wide-ranging research project into how the digital revolution would affect higher education in Australia, including 40 interviews with leaders in the sector.

Thousands of university courses are already available online and the Ernst and Young study shows the move to digital will permanently change the way people get their higher education.

The report cites the website Coursera, created by two Stanford University academics in April this year, which already has more than 30 universities providing courses and some 1.4 million students using the website to study.

Report author Justin Bokor wrote that not one of the 20 university vice-chancellors the research team spoke to saw their universities becoming a "teaching-only" institution, rather than also conducting major research projects.

"It may be that in 10 to 15 years' time a small number of Australian universities have evolved to become specialised tertiary education teaching institutions, with no research programs at all," he wrote.

"However, at this stage, we see it more likely that even the smaller universities will find ways to maintain at least two to three targeted research programs, potentially in partnership with other institutions."

The report also shows the move to digital courses may not necessarily come from within the existing "bricks and mortar" institutions, but does create niche opportunities for universities to create new online education sites.

"In an age of ubiquitous content, 'content is king' no longer applies," Mr Bokor wrote.

"Credibility is king - and increasingly 'curation is king'.

"Universities are uniquely positioned to bring credibility and to act as curators of content."

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