Symposium Explores International For-Profit and Online Education
by Robert Sedgwick
Since the end of World War II, academia has slowly been emerging from the Ivory Tower. The GI Bill of Rights, the mass university and the concept of lifelong learning were all introduced to extend educational opportunities to greater numbers of Americans.
Today we have corporate and online education ventures reaching out to students all over the world. Although distance learning has been around in some form or another for more than 100 years, the information revolution has brought it to the cutting edge of higher education. Recent technological advances and the globalization of business and knowledge have radically altered our conceptions of time and space. E-mail and the Internet have made the world a smaller place while national borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the information age. As a result of these changes, new modes of learning and alternative providers of higher education have emerged to challenge the role of the traditional university.
Other trends across the globe have also contributed to the rise in for-profit and distance learning. The surging demand for college degrees in Asia and other parts of the developing world, coupled with diminishing government funding for universities worldwide, have encouraged the private sector to play a more active role within the realm of higher education. Not surprisingly, the for-profit education industry sees tremendous potential in the expanding international student market. Even colleges and universities have jumped on the bandwagon offering distance-learning programs of their own.
What does all this mean for the future of international education? As I wrote back in the March/April 1999 issue of WENR, the recent explosion of corporate and virtual universities on the scene has changed the rules of the game, so to speak. The traditional strategy aimed at bringing students to the university is shifting to include beaming the university overseas via the Internet and other technologies. Will international educators be able to adapt to the many changes engendered by globalization? Or will they end up as road kill on the information superhighway?
World Education Services marked its 25th anniversary last November by holding a symposium on for-profit and online education. The objective here was to look at distance learning and globalization within the context of international education and to initiate a dialogue among participants. Speakers included members of the academic and business communities, in addition to experts and promoters of distance and for-profit education.
Keynote speaker Fareed Zakaria, managing editor of Foreign Affairs, kicked off the event by comparing the globalization of today with a similar trend of the late 19th century. He noted some fundamental differences between the two. First, while the globalization of 100 years ago referred mainly to trade, the trend we are experiencing today is truly “a global phenomenon” affecting everything from the conception to the manufacturing to the consumption of goods and services.
Secondly, unlike its predecessor, modern globalization includes significant parts of the non-Western world. Many countries in the developing world, for instance, are now exporting skilled labor to the industrialized nations and are rapidly becoming consumers and investors as well. The third major difference, according to Zakaria, has to do with global leadership. At the end of the 19th century, the globalization phenomenon was on “thin ice” because the great power that guided and sustained it