The future of University

University has recently started a big transformation process triggered by the apparition of MOOCs (Massive open online course), which were popularized with Coursera since 2012. I believe that these MOOCs are the right way to go and that higher education should continue its transition. This post lists a few further measures in the same direction as the MOOCs and summarizes the benefits they could yield. In my opinion, we should head to a system with:

  • no more physical courses at University,
  • online courses (MOOC) given by the best Professors and accesible to everyone for free,
  • yearly world exams identical for all students in order to mark candidates on the same scale and grant them universal certifications.

This may sound extreme but let’s have a look to the potential benefits of these measures. For sake of clarity, let me call system B the new system resulting from the above measures and system A the former traditional system.

1. Get the best teachers and courses

In current universities there are Professors with terrible teaching skills and others with excellent ones. Throughout a degree it is likely to encounter both types. It is true that good universities have probably better Professors, which results in overall better teaching than in bad universities.

By asking the best Professors to create online courses with videos, anyone could learn from the best course with the best Professor. As a result, students would learn faster and better.

Of course, a good course is a subjective notion and it may depend on the student background or personality. A solution would be to have not a single but a few “good courses” for the same topic so that students could pick the most suitable for them. Courses would be rated and reviewed to help prospective students.

2. Save time and improve research

This new education system would likely save a lot of time to Professors, students and companies, resulting in an overall global increase of productivity.

To Professors

If only one or a few teachers teach (actually, only once!), what would the others do during all thieir new spare time? For sure more interesting things than repeating every year the same things.

Teaching is extremely time consuming for a professor. No more teaching would mean more time for research and more time to dedicate to PhD students! So this new system would undoubtedly speed up research.

Many professors have already stopped writing on the board and instead they prepare slides that they project every year. This already saves quite a bit of time, it is somehow a first tiny step towards system B.

To students

Having the best courses save time as students would understand faster than during a bad course, by definition.

The possibility of stopping a video and coming back a few seconds before to watch again a misunderstood point is extremely valuable and can save a lot of time, in particular if this point is necessary to understand the rest of the lecture.

No more students left behind…

To companies

Having universal exams make hiring faster because companies can base their judgement on the reliable grades that the candidates got.

3. Free studies, broader access to education

University fees for students are usually very expensive and many students have to take long loans. On the other hand, the system B would not cost anything or almost nothing and thus, studies would be free for anyone! This would make people from any background more equal with respect to education.

4. Be recognized

Having the same exam for all the students would make grades reliable, comparable and meaningful.

These exams would probably be the only ones to cost a little bit in order to finance the organization and the correction.

Anyone, of any age, could take theses exams and get a grade.

Compagnies could impartially judge candidates and advertise jobs with specific prerequisites.

Note that world exams are not incompatible with the current teaching system and reforming teaching and exams could be done separately.

5. Get better help

Questions would be posted and answered online on forums with a voting system similar to the StackExchange websites.

6. Design your own cursus

With this new system, no worries about which program to choose, you can customize yours. No courses are forced.

You can change change your area of studies whenever you want.

Let me list a few critics that may arise:

How to select the best courses
Trial and error. Courses would be rated by students. Best courses will rapidly emerge.

No physical social interactions?
Students would still have time to do extra activities with other students.

The system B targets higher education students, serious enough to decide what they want to do of their future. This system should not be applied to college or high school students.

How to fund research?
I don’t know how much of student fees fund research. That may be a problem.

How to organize this system?
I think the system B should develop incrementally and in parallel to the current system A. At some point system A will become obsolete. The exams should take time to evaluate well the students (might be a few days). To compare results between years, grades should be modified to have similar distributions.


Current MOOC websites are not very far from what I have described. Except that there are still physical courses running in parallel and that the certifications are not well-recognized. As usual, the main difficulty is probably to reform the current system as many niche people benefit from it and have no intention to make it change. It would be great if governments could meet up and speed up the transition process towards system B.

Written on September 15, 2014