Last updated: 15.09.11

Future universities should be 'less like Harvard and more online'

Panellists at a conference currently underway in New York have reiterated e-learning's role in the continual development of education.

Shai Reshef, founder of the US-based online higher education course provider University of the People, suggested that future investment in universities should aim to create more accessible online learning formats rather than "copycats of Harvard or the Sorbonne", reports

He argued that in the future, universities will have to be redesigned with both the "global" and the "local" sphere in mind, in order to widen participation.

"In other countries, if a student doesn't do well on a placement exam, there is nowhere to go," he said, arguing that e-learning fills in for people who would otherwise slip through the net.

Mr Reshef added that virtual learning environments would help to improve education statistics that highlight the gulf between the genders and even affect "villagers who can't afford to move" to attend classes.

The conference is part of the Economist's Ideas Economy - Human Potential, which seeks ways in which education can be scaled as a business following recent headlines on the pace of online learning's expansion.

A major development came with the announcement of Stanford University's pioneering free-of-charge degree courses in artificial intelligence (AI) delivered entirely through the internet. Already a prolific exporter of transportable audio podcast lessens, the university intended to "change the world" with its latest innovative step.

"I'm much more interested in bringing Stanford to the world," explained Dr Sebastian Thrun, one of the two experts on AI who will be teaching the course, adding that the developing world has "colossal" educational needs and that the course offers a template to meet some of them, reports the New York Times.

Hal Abelson, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist, said that despite the fact putting vast amounts of content on the web ten years ago was considered risky, now it is more a question of how people can "move into something that is more interactive and collaborative".