Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How free online university classes could devastate Montreal's economy

   Montreal has become a university town.
   Students from around the world have been attracted to the city's skyline of ivory towers and have long been stampeding here in the thousands to attend our local schools, particularly McGill University.
   The result has been a boon not only to the universities but to the city as a whole, as those students pour a lot of cash into the local economy.
   Montreal ranks as tops in the number of university students per capita in North America. It's also tops in Canada for the number of university students and foreign students enrolled and diplomas doled out.
   (It's also a place with the highest level of high school and college dropouts, so there's an undiscussed chasm amongst our population between low-earning townies and high-falutin' school migrants).
   But within a couple of years the city could start losing the university crowd, not only because the currently-reigning Parti Quebecois government has cut funding, but because competition has become ferocious in the form of free online education increasingly being offered by other higher-ranked universities.
 The trend for free online education is exploding and each week more universities announce that they're putting their product out there for all to consume, anywhere on the planet.
   Some universities are finding tens of thousands of people enrolled in courses that previously would have only been able to cater to a couple of hundred.
   So the world will become smarter and people who previously couldn't dream of higher education will suddenly be the brightest guy in the room, challenging others for jobs. It will, in theory, raise everybody's games.
   Those already-planning to attend university will conceivably be able to shop around for a good professor, bad ones will be quickly outed, shunned or ignored. Free online university will become a sort of Rate My Professor on steroids.
   Having done a DEC at Dawson, a BA at McGill and an MA at Concordia, I often bemoaned the fact that a lot of profs just aren't cutting it.
   One Dawson psychology teacher spoke inaudibly, another philosophy prof had a thick incomprehensible accent, another German History Professor at McGill enjoyed mocking his students, one Historian at Concordia was "too shy" to teach, a literature teacher at Dawson admitted that he didn't actually read my essay before giving it a low mark and many, many more were just lazy or indifferent.
   In two or three years many such professionals of the learning industry will feel the pressure to improve their crafts or be gone.
   The world will be watching how they fare and so free online courses is surely a good thing for learning, but not necessary a blessing for our local economy. 


UrbanLegend said...

Of course, the downside is that if the volume of graduates becomes too high, there will never be enough jobs for them to occupy, other than in third-world countries where their skills would be highly appreciated--which actually wouldn't be a bad thing.

The third-world brain drain would then hopefully begin to reverse, their economies improve and poverty slowly be eliminated.

John McFetridge said...

"Montreal ranks as tops in the number of university students per capita in North America."

Really? More than Boston?

Anonymous said...

England has had the Open university for decades, and I don't think it has affected the uni cities there (Manchester, London, Bristol, Sussex etc.) My sister did a English degree from home in the 1990's by computer enrolled at Western. She lived in a suburb of Ottawa and for some reason chose do that method. It would effect a city if Universities downsized faculties and moved them wholly online, getting rid of bricks and mortar classrooms etc. However, this still would not preclude local people from being able to do a degree online and still spend their money in the city. For things like Computer classes etc. it probably does not effect the experience to much, however, the live experience of discussion, debate etc with great professors and engaged students cannot be emulated unless if everyone is on a live synced class with a live prof teaching and not a recorded video lecture as many do. Having done a degree or two, it is true some professors are dead wood and everyone likes to point out their examples of such profs as a damning critique of the whole system. But overall, most people if honest, would admit they learned a great deal whether in Journalism, History, Math, Communications etc. It is the overall package (experiential, social, academic etc) that give the bang for the buck in my opinion.


Lauriate Roly. said...

I found this a most interesting article. Whatever method of educating is employed, the overall outcome to the students involved is unquestionably far more satisfying than leaving them abandoned and uneducated, thus leading to restrictions in better job opportunities and/or general unemployment. If on-line schooling means less “in-person” student commercial activity for a town or city, that is indeed unfortunate; but that detriment should not even be considered. It is far better to have an economic problem which eventually can be overcome, than to have massive numbers of people permanently uneducated.
I like the spirit of “Anonymous’s” posting. His words are quite relevant.

Anonymous said...

yes, Montreal edges out Boston by a small margin from what I remember in the student to population ratio. But I think they include in the Montreal data Cegep students. And since there is not such an equivalent system in Boston where students go right to uni after high school at age 17 or so. Though there are many 2 year Associate Degree community colleges there also. Harvard, MIT, Boston College etc. certainly hit the higher rungs of academia prestige compared with UQAM, UdeM,and Concordia but McGill seems to still manage to be up there due to its Med, Law, Engineering strengths. But other areas of academics are certainly less stellar and ride on the its past prestige. Robert

MTLaise said...

Must be a good reason why my comments from this afternoon were not published.

Kristian Gravenor said...

I don't think I refused any comment, but I've been flooded with dozens of spam messages every day lately so it's possible that I accidentally deleted it with the others, please repost if you can.

Marky-Marx said...

free university classes, so that means no rioting red square "students"? That's gotta be good for the economy. Unless the uber-marxists at UQAM get to be in charge, of course, and demand that students be given a wage for e-"learning".

MTLaise said...

Tks, kgravy, and let's not even talk about Spam warfare. That's another post. So, from my C- memory:
MOOC certainly has its attractions. But if it's to be the sole educational model for the future, there will be detractions.
Research~who's gonna pay for it?
Libraries~where's their funding to come from?
Forget the steroids. Rate my Professor becomes weaponized and dictates which courses fly, at all.
IMO, inherent to the process of actually learning is something indefinable that occurs within the context of instructor/student, even student-to-student, relationships. Face-to-face, in a classroom.
That's how the most tricky stuff was finally made clear to me. Plus, I need to ask lots of questions.
MOOC might also be more problematic
for some disciplines (Medicine);robotic surgery practice~yes, simulated patient interaction~no.
But if MOOC is the way, then we'll not be needing all of McGill's real estate, currently tax-free. Sure, some people would be unemployed.But think of the real estate possibilities.
Deficits could be paid off and big tax $'s roll back to the city!
Hope not.

Anonymous said...

Halifax has 6 Universities, and the most students per capita of any city in Canada.
Too lazy to see how it compares to Boston though.
Onkel Charlie