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Clues about the future of higher education

On the day the new THE World University Rankings have been announced, those looking for clues about the future of Higher Education might be better off scanning the technology press.  Much has been written about digital disruption of HE from the MOOCs to Sebastian Thrun’s nano-degrees, yet many in HE remain unconvinced about the potential change. 

Yesterday it was announced that General Assembly, the New York-based education provider had raised a further $70 million in funding, bringing the total to almost $120 million in the four years since the company was founded.  General Assembly also announced that in 2015 alone they will enrol 14,000 students on their 3 month programmes and complete the year with over 25,000 alumni.  Alongside this, General Assembly has trained in excess of 15,000  employees and collaborated with more than 5,000 companies.

Some in HE will argue that what General Assembly provides is complimentary to a traditional HE offer and there is truth in this.  It may be that General Assembly never intends to go head to head with universities and business schools to provide traditional degrees.  However, General Assembly is providing skills that are in demand from employers and this should be of interest to business schools and universities.

At a time when many universities are concerned about future funding, additional revenue streams are being sought in many places.  Universities are also under growing pressure to find ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors and many are focusing on the student experience.  Providing skills that enhance employability of graduates is a great way to build a strong and differentiated student experience.  And if nothing else, General Assembly’s success both in educating students but also in fundraising, suggests that brand and financial barriers to entry in HE are quickly disappearing.

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