University lecturers in Nigeria may soon have to start looking for new jobs as our students enroll in Princeton or Harvard.
And, no, I am not talking about the current struggle with the federal government or the ongoing strike – I am talking about the very real threat of online education.
When the revolution comes, our lecturers will be scrambling for positions as teaching assistants to Harvard professors.
My attention was recently drawn to an article published in 2013 in The American Interest titled “The End of the University as We Know It” (https://www.the-americaninterest.com/2012/12/11/the-endof-the-university-as-we-knowit/) written by Nathan Harden. In that article, Harden speaks of how Information Technology (IT) is set to change forever the way higher education is delivered.
The physical classroom will slowly disappear because degrees will be offered online as students begin to take classes from the comfort of their favourite chair at home.
Think about it, students could attend Princeton or Harvard at a fraction of the cost of a Nigerian university degree.
These are some of the most exclusive schools on the planet. When Harden wrote that article in 2013, his predictions seemed a little way off – nobody thought COVID-19 would happen.
Now, the world is faced with the very real possibility that the university – as a physical space with students, professors and deans – will soon become a thing of the past.
The beauty of online courses is that they cost about half of what it costs to receive the same in a classroom.
They are flexible, and can be fitted to the student’s convenience. Students can also pick and choose, mix and match courses according to their interests without having to adhere to a fixed, predetermined syllabus.
It takes a much shorter time to conclude a course online so that what takes a three-month semester in a regular classroom to complete can be completed in mere weeks.
Four-year degrees will shrink to a maximum of two. Nightmare lecturers and supervisors will be a thing of the past. Running desperately from one lecture hall to another so as to get a seat for your next class will be no more.
Packed and stuffy classrooms will become folklore. Photocopies will become antiquated.
The struggle for hostel space and coping with “squatters” will fade into a bad memory.
Transport fare is no longer a cause for anxiety. Your worries about being poorly dressed while your peers are wearing the snazziest outfits are over – with online courses, you don’t even have to take a bath before attending classes.
You can go to school in your pyjamas. How cool is that! Currently, there are hundreds of free courses being offered online by some of the most prestigious universities in the world and our students have been tapping into this resource for years.
Two of the big players in this field are CHGG (Chegg) and COURSERA. According to Oliver Garret (www. forbes.com, June 4, 2020), “the global online education market was worth less than $19 billion last year.
By 2025, it’s projected to be a $350 billion industry. In other words it’s poised to grow 18-fold over the next five years!”
Damien Roberts (Seeking Alpha, seekingalpha.com, Sep. 15, 2020) writes that “There’s over 43 million different pieces of content and textbook solutions” on Chegg alone.
The biggest change is set to happen, however, as universities make the move from mere course offerings to degrees earned online.
Yes, students will be able to earn their Bachelors, Masters and PhDs online. No passport, no VISA.
All one needs is a certified university email and that’s it. Students will expect to pay a fee for the certificate of course, but this will be a tiny amount compared to the millions of naira that Nigerians pay to study abroad.
These degrees will become affordable for the average Nigerian student, and without all the hassle of getting a degree in a Nigerian university.
Already, in many parts of the world, lectures have continued online while Nigeria is still grappling with the problem of how to make its campuses safe.
The Nigerian government cannot insist that its lecturers do the same since we do not have the required facilities or infrastructure.
Even electrical power is a big problem with some places in the country suffering from blackouts for days. So, even if lecturers are willing to teach live classes online, many of their students will not be able to attend these classes.
Add to this the fact that data charges are extremely high and many of our students cannot afford live classes.
Unless the government is prepared to provide free WiFi in accessible areas such as on all university and college campuses, online teaching may not be feasible in this country.
The bad news is that once the topnotch universities start awarding degrees online, everybody will want to go there.
What, then will be the fate of Nigerian (and other less prestigious) universities? Our universities might well end up becoming nothing more than exam centres for these high-end universities.
Our lecturers will be scrambling for positions as teaching assistants to Harvard professors.
Since the size of online classes can run into the hundreds of thousands, our lecturers might also get jobs as graders and exam supervisors, certainly not as instructors since those positions will be taken up by staff of more prestigious universities.
It will be tough for a Nigerian academic to get a word in edgewise.
The competition will be fierce, to put it mildly. This will also mean the end of our universities as we know them.
With students going for affordable online degrees from Harvard or Yale, Nigerian universities will start turning into ghost towns.
So all the expansion and construction going on across Nigerian universities might soon end up being a waste of money as universities of the future will require less and less space, and far fewer buildings.
Those universities that survive might need to have some very good vocational learning centres for teaching vocations such as carpentry, woodwork, blacksmithing, dressmaking, cookery, pottery, hairdressing, and the like, along with adult education for the aged who just cannot operate a computer.
Regular students certainly won’t be coming for academics! Even if Nigeria awards degrees to its students for free, only the most poverty-ridden students will go to Nigerian universities because “more prestigious” degrees will be affordable online.
Some will even be totally free! The implications of this are enormous.
As we make the move online, individuals, families, societies, unions, communities, social life, friendships, relationships and many other things that we have taken for granted so far will change. But that is a discussion for another day.