This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 21 Number 3 1998. The copyright is shared by EDUCAUSE and the author. See for additional copyright information.

Perspectives on Higher Education in the Global Market
Sir John Daniel, Governor Michael Leavitt, and Governor Roy Romer, interviewed by Polley Ann McClure

At the 1998 Seminars on Academic Computing (SAC, an EDUCAUSE Affiliate), Sir John Daniel, vice-chancellor, United Kingdom Open University, presented an excellent keynote address on knowledge media for global universities, followed by a panel discussion with Governors Roy Romer (Colorado) and Michael Leavitt (Utah), co-founders of the Western Governors University.1 CAUSE/EFFECT invited EDUCAUSE Board Chair Polley Ann McClure to pose some additional questions to all three leaders about higher education in a global marketplace and to Sir John Daniel about the United Kingdom�s very successful Open University.

Q: What is your vision for higher education in the 21st century, and what are the main opportunities and challenges suggested by this vision?

Romer: The 21st century presents unique challenges for higher education. Higher education must be prepared to embrace the changes and challenges that new technology brings. There was a time, not long ago, when public education was the best means to share common knowledge and pass on common values among local community members. Today our local community is the world community and our lives are touched by people from all over the world. Most certainly membership in this global "community" creates opportunities for new learning and opens the potential experience to many who would otherwise be limited by time, resources, and geography. These changes in our concept of community also create new challenges for our education system, and they change our notion of who is responsible for the education of our citizens.

Daniel: Clearly there will be a huge increase in volume at the beginning of the next century as the largest generation of teenagers ever hits the university. (Twenty-five percent of the world population is now under fifteen.) If the birth-rate does start to decline there may never be as big a cohort again. But that also means that by about 2045 the largest generation of older people ever will be looking for lifelong learning opportunities in retirement. I see higher education continuing to diversify. Obviously there will be more distance education, but some of the curricula foci may change. The fashion for management and computing courses will likely peak and we may see a resurgence of older subjects in an interdisciplinary guise. Possibly the corporate or for-profit providers will cream off the management and computing students, so universities will go back to an earlier academic profile.

Leavitt: The transition to the Information Age presents an unparalleled opportunity in the way that we can and ultimately will deliver education. Higher education will soon be a global market. In the few years we have between then and now, the window is wide open for a nation, a group, any collaboration of private or public, individual and collective, to design and remake the education delivery system that will reshape the world. The race is on, and the outcome is going to change not just higher education, but people around the globe. This is a chance not only to export knowledge, but to lift societies. Technology will pave the way for more people to become educated than has ever been possible before--people who until now did not have the access, the time, the money, the opportunity. Because of technology, higher education will no longer have barriers. This represents a dramatic expansion of opportunity for higher education, its role and its mission.

Sir John Daniel
"There is some real work ahead for administrators, instead of just having to ensure that the classrooms are clean and the grass gets cut."

Q: How will new networked delivery strategies alter the way higher education is organized, funded, and managed?

Daniel: I see more emphasis on learning systems. This will be a real headache for the funders at the state/country level who can�t be assured that their taxpayers are getting the benefit of their investment. The result will be downwards pressure on costs as the state uses this as an excuse to cut funding. There is some real work ahead for administrators, instead of just having to ensure that the classrooms are clean and the grass gets cut.

Romer: Higher education must be flexible in order to take advantage of new networked delivery systems. But higher education must also rethink traditional educational delivery systems, including time frames for curricula, on-site versus off-site course/curriculum delivery, and the use of interactive technology. The Western Governors University is an exciting new educational technology initiative under way in the Western region of the U.S. that I believe embodies the shape of higher education in the future. The WGU will expand educational opportunities to all citizens of the West by using advanced technology to cross state and institutional lines.

The WGU is a bold, break-the-mold approach to learning, based on two key premises. First, regional cooperation will enable higher education to reach a wide array of students and select courses from a wide array of sources. Second, WGU certificates and degrees will be based on competencies demonstrated through rigorous assessment. Where learning takes place will no longer be as important as what a student actually learns.

Leavitt: New networked delivery systems are facilitating the emergence of a new academic common market, one with common currency and code. The currency of higher education at present is "credit,� the unit of time spent in class receiving instruction. It may or may not be exchangeable with another institution. In the academic common market, the currency will be competency, a guarantee to the marketplace that the student is competent in the field of his or her degree. This new academic common market will create a system that is based on learning, not teaching. It is a system that will be centered around students, not institutions. It will be a system that measures quality in terms of output, not by brand name of the producer.

Value-added market pricing will be a part of this common market, and it will invite new competitors from the private sector that will drive costs down and quality up. From suppliers of courses and curriculum to competition within academe, this common market will create an entire cast of new players and competitors. Publishing companies will develop curriculum. Corporations will develop their own universities. And the system will be driven into an atmosphere that is not mass-production oriented, but mass-customization oriented. Every student will have the ability to craft this package in a way that fits them.

"A very important element of good leadership in the 21st century will be the ability to make this transition"

Q: Some of our most elite institutions have achieved their status by being highly selective, expensive, and delivering face-to-face instruction. Many feel secure in their current niche and don�t want to risk their status by changing models. What advice would you give to leaders of such institutions?

Daniel: It is a fundamental issue, one I don�t think they can duck. The theme of higher education in the next century is that the link between quality and exclusiveness has been broken. I would say that in strictly educational terms. Behind that, there is a much bigger problem. That is that the emphasis on educational quality and exclusiveness--and I shouldn�t speak for the United States, but certainly in other countries--has contributed to the very serious divide we now see in society between the rich and the poor, the disadvantaged and the less advantaged. What it seems to me the quality institutions are doing is encouraging the middle classes to really try to get out of public systems and go for these exclusive places. That�s a very serious problem, producing elites who no longer really have any sense of their duty to society as a whole. It�s an issue that goes far beyond simple matters of education. The fact that it�s possible to have quality without exclusiveness in education is helpful in solving the wider problem. It requires a complete mental switch. It�s not just the presence of these exclusive universities. It�s not their fault. They�re simply responding to trends in society which are worrying throughout the Western world.

Leavitt: I would add that it is, as Sir John suggests, a social trend. It�s being found in almost every other industry. If you look at the public utility industry, the telecommunications industry, healthcare industry, the financial industry--all of them go through a pattern where we start to see certain words emerge: unbundling, cherry picking, stranded costs. All of these institutions have essentially one other thing in common. They have been driven primarily by reputation and by some kind of monopoly control, and now we�re starting to see this pattern of change in the telecommunications, the utility industry, and so forth. Higher education is going to go through it as well. If one were to be blinded to it, they would be left behind, ultimately be damaged by the marketplace. A very important element of good leadership in the 21st century will be the ability to make this transition.

Romer: I would say that higher education cannot rest on the laurels of past reputation. Higher education has responsibilities to the public outside the institution--to prepare students for informed citizenship, to help address local needs through research and academic debate, and to ensure that faculty and institutional agendas address the needs of the public. Higher education cannot exist in a vacuum and still retain the public confidence to which it has grown accustomed.

There will always be a place for the traditional on-campus educational experience, and while so much is right about our higher education system, there is always room for improvement and innovation. As you know, in the last decade, the nation�s public and higher education systems have all come under close public scrutiny. Parents, educators, and community leaders have all begun to question whether students are being prepared to enter an increasingly complex world and workforce. We must push higher education to raise its sights as we should always seek to raise the quality of our most important investments.

"I do not advocate for a shift to a completely distance-learning-based higher education environment."

Q: It has been said that education in the agricultural era was the responsibility of the church; in the industrial era, it was the responsibility of government; and in the information age, this role will fall to the corporate sector. Do you agree with this prediction?

Daniel: No, I absolutely don�t. I think some will. But I believe that the reason that the corporate sector is able to move into so much higher education is that in a way higher education has lost its way from its core mission. The core mission of higher education is to train critical thinkers, to inculcate a sort of attitude of systematic skepticism so that people take part as active citizens challenging what�s going on. The corporate sector as a corporate sector will never be very interested in that, although some individual corporate leaders give heroic support to that core mission. I think we will see a slimming of universities to their core function. The corporate sector can probably do a lot of what universities do in training standard skills, orthodox knowledge as well, and more cheaply than universities can, so why shouldn�t they? It would be very unfortunate for governments to back out of all this. What I find so encouraging in the Western Governors University that the governors here have been prime leaders in, is that here we have a public policy push similar to that which led Jefferson to create the University of Virginia. It�s very important that governments hang in there and represent the public agenda.

Leavitt: My view is that corporate leaders don�t want to be accepting this as their responsibility short of a couple who see it as a market opportunity. I had a conversation with a very large technology company CEO who told me, "If I miss one product cycle in this environment, I�m dead as a corporation. My concern is that the existing system of higher education isn�t responding quickly enough to provide the needs I have in an eighteen-month product cycle. By the time I move to the next product cycle, they�re just starting to teach the kinds of disciplines I needed in the former product cycle.� So corporations are doing this out of a sense of survival, not because they feel like they can do it better, or they want to do it. They�d like to stick with their core mission. They�d like the higher education system to respond.

Romer: I believe that in the future the education of our citizens will become increasingly a public/private partnership. As our economy changes, so do the demands made on employees. Today�s students need to know more and possess higher skills if they hope to compete for decent, high-wage jobs in the future. Business has a huge stake in helping transition education from a system whose objective was to pass on a discrete set of common facts, to one that equips students to think and reason. How well we educate, train, and develop the potential of our people will do more to determine our future than anything else, and it requires participation from businesses and their leaders.

Q: Do you think that the American university system is prepared for an Open University model of higher education and, if not, what do you think we need to do in order to be prepared?

Romer: Let me answer the question this way. While I do believe that the American public is ready for an Open University model of higher education, I am less sure whether the American university system is ready. Much of this goes back to my previous responses. As I mentioned, it is clear that alternate forms of learning are becoming increasingly necessary in the United States due to student constraints such as time and distance. However, at the same time, today�s students are required to know more than ever before. For this reason, I argue that we need an Open University system in the United States.

We must push our institutions of higher education to deliver instruction to students on campuses, on home computers, in libraries or at work, using technology to provide more educational opportunities among and across states.

Daniel: If by an Open University-type model you mean an American Open University, I do think there are some issues having to do with the state jurisdiction and the whole pattern of education. If you mean the sort of core manner in which it functions, I think there�s still a bit of an issue. To my perception, the American system is still very focused on the teacher and the classroom. However, having said that, with 3,500 higher education institutions, it seems there�s such variety in the system, that someone will make the break. The problem is that the new technology really requires you to operate at scale. That�s the big challenge which, again, projects like the Western Governors University are trying to meet by pooling the resources of a large number of institutions in a way that combines the best of the federal with the best of the local.

Leavitt: I think it�s important to recognize what the efforts that have currently been undertaken are, and what they are not. What they are not is a replacement for the existing system. What they are is a new element in the delivery of the new system of higher education in this country, in the 21st century version of what we have today. Any institution that is not able to incorporate some element of this into their current offerings will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This is not something that can be seen as an exclusive model or replacement; it has to be incorporated into the existing system.

Q: Many of our faculty have expressed concern about the "dehumanization� of education they believe will result from the use of technology in teaching. Do you share those fears?

Romer: No. In fact, in certain instances I believe technology makes it easier for some students to speak up than if they were in a "traditional� classroom. For example, my son Paul, an economics professor at Stanford, teaches some of his classes online. He tells me he spends more time counseling his students through e-mail than he does in actual office hours. Shy students are more likely to ask questions and engage in "conversation� through a medium such as the Internet. I believe we should use technology to supplement, not supplant, face-to-face interaction of faculty and students. Perhaps the more pressing concern is how higher education can manage the heavy load that comes with students being able to access teachers anytime, anyplace via technology.

Daniel: I think it�s complete rubbish. They don�t mean dehumanizing, they mean fewer opportunities for megalomania and a little less convenience for themselves. There�s lots of evidence to show that for students a good open learning system is actually much more human and much more personal than attempting to scale up the old model, which is not human and personal at all.

Leavitt: For those who have actually taken a good technology-delivered course and have observed it first-hand, it�s clear that that statement is not true. I have asked all our board of regents and the trustees of the university to take a good technology-delivered class to see for themselves. Everyone that I�ve talked to, with rare exceptions, who�ve taken a good technology-delivered course, tells me that the interaction is not less, but more, and that the amount of interaction they have is enhanced by the fact that they use these technologies. People think of technology as just the delivery of the course on TV that goes one way. This is two-way. It requires a substantial amount of individualization. It�s not a short-cut. It�s a very demanding way to deliver education. It has dramatic advantages that represent quality that traditional means cannot give.

Q: Another concern of some faculty focuses on the socialization process that characterizes the traditional residential university experience. How do you see this development taking place in a totally distance-learning setting?

Daniel: It seems futile to try to provide that by distance education. I�d be the last to remove that. But I understand that already in the U.S. that group of full-time, living-on-campus students is only a sixth of those registered in higher education. So it�s a minority. It�s wonderful that they continue to be served. The problem is that we define the whole system in terms of the needs of that minority. Being once president of a campus university, I think one has to really make sure that those social advantages which are claimed are really delivered. So often there are a lot of assumptions that because students and faculty mill around on the same campus, all these good things are happening. They�re not. The whole story is to be explicit about what you want to achieve and explicit about how you are going to achieve it.

Romer: First of all, I do not advocate for a shift to a completely distance-learning-based higher education environment. I watched each of my seven children go off to college. Their undergraduate education was an important development milestone and one which I would not change. Distance learning should not be viewed as a replacement for higher education but rather as a technological extension of the marketplace. This new learning system will involve not only our traditional public post-secondary institutions, but also private colleges and universities, companies that provide training, and the many private businesses that are developing courses and curriculum.

Leavitt: A couple of years ago I took my oldest son to college. We went to the dorm and put his suitcase under the bed. I made his bed for what might be the only time it happened during the semester. We walked up and down the hall wondering how anyone studies with all this music. I want all my children to have that experience. I want them to have the personal interaction with a real curmudgeon professor who will push them further and harder than they have ever been pushed before. I also want my children to be exposed to the technologies of the future, to learn to interact. I would argue that this is not a replacement for that limited group of traditional students. We will always have campuses. But it needs to be part of their education as well. Part of quality will be learning to deal with the technologies of the future, and the delivery of this kind of education will be one way to do it.

Q: What do you say to those critics who claim that many of the programs delivered by technology, especially those delivered to adult populations, are more "training� than "education�?

Daniel: Pure nonsense! Indeed, the more hands-on skills required, the harder it is to teach a subject at a distance, although it can be done, as the OU has shown in science and technology. Students who take distance and campus courses simultaneously (40 percent of students at the two Canadian open universities are simultaneously enrolled at other campus universities) say the distance courses are of higher quality and more demanding. I would riposte that classroom-delivered courses are often spoonfeeding, whereas technology-based learning stretches the intellectual muscles. (Our students say they like CD-ROM because it forces them to answer the self-assessment questions before moving on, whereas you can skip them in class or in the textbook.)

Leavitt: When people raise this commonly asked question, I simply point out that the debate will be resolved in the 21st century. Any education that doesn�t provide both education and training will be a hollow victory. One will be required to retool over and over again, rapidly and repeatedly. Education is a must to enable that. However, without specific skills, one is limited. Our objective is to provide both.

Romer: I believe that distance learning is a concept whose time has come. And while designing electronic workforce certification and degree programs is probably easier than designing "academic� programs, it is no less valuable. At WGU, we have rolled out instruction beginning with a competency-based Associate of Arts degree, a competency-based Electronics Manufacturing certification, and a limited capability for brokering courses. We intend to eventually offer a full range of both workforce certification and academic degree programs.

Sidebar 1

Sir John Daniel on The United Kingdom Open University

The Open University has built up a very successful distance learning system that reaches large numbers of students at a low cost, with high-quality courses. The keys to its success are well-designed multiple media teaching materials, personal academic support to each student, efficient logistics, and faculty who also conduct research. EDUCAUSE Board Chair Polley McClure asked OU Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel about the impact of the Open University on higher education and faculty in Great Britain, and its future in the U.S.

Has the existence of the Open University facilitated or inhibited the development of distance education programs in more traditional British universities?

To begin with, as one wag put it, "The effect of opening the Open University was to close all the others even more firmly.� But that has all changed since the polytechnics became universities and started competing aggressively for part-time students. The OU greatly facilitated the development of distance education in the other universities since all of them have many members of staff who work as part-time tutors for the OU and therefore know how it works (and use OU courses for their on-campus teaching). However, fortunately for us it is easier to describe a distance education system than to build one and make it work effectively.

How have faculty responded to distance education in general and to the Open University specifically?

There are two parts to that answer. The first is that the Open University core full-time faculty have responded very well. Really, all you�re doing is bringing over into teaching the team approach they�ve used in research. So it�s actually a more intellectually stimulating way of working than just going off and doing your own thing in the classroom. As far as the rest of higher education are concerned, very large numbers, many thousands, are involved, either as part-time tutors in the system or as people who work as external assessors on the course teams. We also provide more training for faculty than all universities put together, because we have to train this very large core of part-time faculty, who are full-time faculty at other universities, to operate in our learning system. There is widespread admiration for what we do. That�s not to say it�s very easy to take a campus university and transform it into what we�re doing. But certainly the idea of the faculty experience being in some way diminished is the absolute reverse of the truth. All the evidence, whether from full-time faculty or from part-time faculty acting as tutors, is that this is actually intellectually more stimulating than the traditional approach.

Do you have tenure in the Open University?

Margaret Thatcher abolished tenure. As far as I can see it didn�t make any difference to anything, because people have permanent employment. There are procedures for dismissing people and so on, but it�s not an issue. What we don�t do is to have this practice which some American universities have of hiring five people and saying that two of them will get tenure in two years time and then let them fight it out. If we think we want some one permanently, we hire them on a permanent contract with a probationary period.

Does the Open University have plans to offer courses or programs in the U.S.?

Yes. In the last few months, we have created the Open University of the United States as a body registered and licensed in the U.S., which is going for accreditation in the Middle States Commission. We�ve done that primarily in order to facilitate the partnerships we�re developing with a number of American universities. We have a memorandum of understanding with Western Governors University, we�ve got active projects going with the Florida State University and the California State University. I don�t preclude our offering some of our courses directly, because in fact we�ve already got some substantial numbers of Americans who are students of the Open University who began when they were posted in Europe, and have come back. We�ve always believed in going through the front door when we operate in other jurisdictions and this seemed to be a logical way to do it in the U.S. As of a couple of months ago, as well as my day job, I�m also the president of the Open University of the U.S.

Sidebar 2

Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media: Technology Strategies for Higher Education
by Sir John S. Daniel
(Stylus Publishing, LLC,1998, $24.95, 224 pages)
ISBN 0-7494-2634-9

Reviewed by Larry Conrad

From its title, I expected this book to focus primarily on the so-called mega-universities--for example, the United Kingdom Open University, with which the author is affiliated. Instead, I found this book essentially a road-map for the issues facing higher education leaders today and a challenge to the assumption that we can continue to do business as usual.

Sir John Daniel gets his reader�s attention immediately by comparing the $12,500/year average cost per student for U. S. higher education with the $350/year average cost per student for the mega-universities. As more and more institutions look at delivering instruction remotely using the Internet--thus competing in a national if not international market--this is nothing less than a wake-up call for higher education!

The book goes on to build a case for using technology to leverage the productivity of faculty, students, and operational support staff. The author lays out a framework for establishing an institution�s sustainable competitive advantage goals (cost leadership vs. differentiation), using a "value chain� concept to help identify the costs associated with each aspect of an institution�s operations. This value chain process can be used to help an organization focus on where it should invest additional resources rather than look for more cost-effective approaches. The remainder of the book guides the reader through the process of developing a technology strategy that will support an institution�s goals using the Open University as an example.

Whether or not you agree that higher education has begun the process of fundamental transformation, reading this book is a good investment of your time. Sir John Daniel�s lucid writing style, compelling arguments, and cogent presentation of the issues make it a highly entertaining read. I recommend this book to higher education administrators, technology leaders and, indeed, anyone interested in an insightful discussion of the future of post-secondary education.

Reviewer Larry Conrad ([email protected]) is assistant vice president for technology integration at Florida State University.


1 A video of this presentation is available on the EDUCAUSE Web site ( For information about the Open University, see

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Polley Ann McClure ([email protected]) is vice president and chief information officer at the University of Virginia. She currently chairs the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors. the table of contents

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