Internet delivered higher education is described by some in revolutionary terms, providing access to education for poor people or remote populations. In practice, though, the ‘unbundling’ of activities is advocated in order better to subject them to marketisation. John Holmwood argues that consultants advocating for the ‘unbundling’ of universities care not about widening inequality or providing students with employment opportunities, but rather with exploiting the potentially profitable ventures that may arise in the future.
One aspect of the ‘unbundling’ of university activities that Sir Michael and his colleagues recommend – alongside the separation of lecture content from tutorial support, and the curriculum from those who teach it – is the separation of teaching and research. The latter they suggest should be concentrated on a few elite universities. In part, this is a cost-reducing measure – teaching-only universities will be cheaper. But it is also offered alongside a claim that much research takes place outside universities in private companies and Think Tanks. Yet most of the evidence is of the reduction of R and D budgets by private companies, which is precisely one of the reasons why the Government is advocating open access to provide private companies (and SMEs, in particular) access to university research. Moreover, while Sir Michael and his colleagues make much of the value of the ‘bundled’ university to its local community, they are silent on the fact that these benefits will be lost once activities are ‘unbundled’.
The worry expressed in this article is that there are really two models being advocated after the impact of MOOCs are finally felt: the “bundled” university (read: “elite”), and “unbundled” (the rest) which are marked by profit, competition, takeover, and public-private partnerships. (This future doesn’t seem all that far away, with or without MOOCs.)