Could the birth of MOOCs lead to death of international branch campuses?

Could MOOCs change higher education the way emails changed postal services? I believe so. In nearly two decades, emails have changed the economic structure of postal services. An article in the New York Times in 2005 argued Why the Internet Isn’t the Death of the Post Office. Seven years, later, US Postal Services is in deep trouble and it is projecting a loss of $15 billion this year. Does that mean that postal services will vanish. No–postal services will co-exist with emails. Postal services have to redefine the cost-structures, including human resources which account for 80% of cost, to remain viable in this world of instant and free communication.

Likewise, MOOCS are challenging traditional higher education to redefine its cost structure. Of course, they pose no threat to to top quartile of competitive institutions which provide access to higher socioeconomic advancement, but the next tier of institutions will face a new world of fast-paced, technology-based competition, which many are not prepared to compete with.

MOOCs are in the infancy stage and there are still many unknowns about how they will make their impact felt on higher education, including their revenue model for offering ‘free’ courses. And yes, it does feel like dot-com frenzy where online business models launched and failed, but in the end the Internet survived and got stronger than ever before. Likewise, MOOCs will take few years to move from irrational exuberance to sustainable maturity.

A special case of impact of MOOCs is on international student mobility and branch campuses. Could the birth of MOOCs lead to death of international branch campuses?

Branch campuses are infrastructure-intensive efforts with high financial and reputational risk, which could become increasingly unsustainable. Here is my article entitled Could MOOCs Lead to the Decline of Branch Campuses? which was published in University World News.

Like post-offices, branch campuses are not going away in the short term, especially the ones that have been in existence for a while. However, newer branch campuses will face unexpected competition from MOOCs. Institutions expecting to start or expand full-fledged campuses in times of disruptive online learning models need to think twice about their internationalisation strategies.


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Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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