Universities, once the centers of excellence in instruction and discovery, have begun to lose their way. With the burdens of administrative bloat, overpriced tuition, overpaid teachers, decadent facilities, and subpar educational experiences, one wonders how they still exist in their current form. Furthermore, with the Internet containing nearly every piece of literature ever published for free, one can also marvel at why teachers need prevail as well.
Teachers in higher education differ from their lower peers in that they only instill their charges with new material, assuming the students have already been socially conditioned by roughly 20 years of life. Due to the widespread availability of information, this monopoly by the universities has been destroyed, essentially leading to a world where teachers and their associated system of aids are no longer sine qua non.
Schools have traditionally provided two essential services: the knowledge necessary to call oneself a specialist and the motivation necessary to study. The former was either provided to students in lectures or through university printed books—e.g. the historical Oxford University Press—while the latter was maintained via assignments and evaluations.
But every technological revolution begets multiple sociological ones. In this case, it is how pupils are taught. With the advent of the Internet, not only are lectures with slides widely available for free,but so are computerized versions of nearly every book accompanied by many assignments. Students can now learn by themselves from anywhere in the world. The Open University in England has been working under this model for decades, allowing adults worldwide to further their education.
Even without these changes, the current system has to change. Classes are so large that discourse is no longer a possibility; lectures have entered the domain of broadcasts. Practicals, once the hallmark of any scientist, have been transformed into hands-off experiments utilizing century-old equipment.
Furthermore, with an increasingly interconnected world, governments and their interstate counterparts have now begun to standardize higher education. Degrees and diplomas, formerly the purview of individual institutions, are subject to a barrage of rules and regulations dictated by state authorities ranging from professional accreditation boards to education ministries. This has left the universities bereft of power—merely shells of their former glory.
But some believe that dispensing of teachers is not all that should be done. Bill Gates has even ventured so far as to state that “place-based colleges” are the way of the past. However, he completely omits the sociological factor.
Learning and teaching are social phenomena. There are people that take joy from endowing the wisdom of their years to their young disciples. It is for this reason that the full name of university in Latin is universitas magistrorum et scholarium, meaning community of teachers and scholars. It is also for this reason that the English language has four different words for a lecturer—teacher from Greek through German, professor, doctor, and master from Latin through French.
Our society bequeaths value to teachers, though not wholly enough. If it were not for people who devote their lives to the next generation, we would not advance forward. Future ideas and inventions would be lost before even being conceived.
What has been lost from modern education is this societal feeling. A university is not a campus of lecture, study, residence, and dining halls. It is more than just buildings. Not only does it have institutional values but also a place where historically people have been free to study what they desire. Ridding universities of campuses only compounds the issue.
In essence, a social campus is needed. Imagine a university campus predominantly composed of students—a grand expanse with accommodations to meet students needs. High schools graduates would enroll in programs and be given a standard curriculum of courses to follow for the next few years. At the onset of each term, they would be assigned readings and assignments followed by a final exam to prove their acumen and understanding.
This system of self-learning is not novel. It is the norm in upper-year courses and graduate studies. Applying this to all years of universities would not only simplify the system, but would also lead to a better experience. Claiming new students cannot adapt to such a radical departure in teaching methodology only discredits humanity’s ability for environmental adaption.
In such a system, a web of upper-year students can provide help to younger students upon need. Researchers can even provide question-answer periods via audio-video communications from nearby institutes not dissimilar to today’s office hours.
Utopia. Maybe people should want to learn for themselves, not because they were told to do so. However, not every student is the perfect learner. Like any system, education should both foster efficiency and equality to be innovative and inclusive, respectively. In time, optimizations could accommodate such needs.
But then again, anything is better than teachers that care more about filling out the next grant application, having their staff publish their next paper, and seeing their names in a so-called prestigious journal. Was the whole point of research not to experiment?
Jaimes Amber '14 lives in Canaday Hall.