On­line learn­ing means fees, not trees, can fall

Business Day - Business Law and Tax Review - - BUSINESS LAW & TAX REVIEW - Pa­trick Bracher

IN MY ar­ti­cle in the Au­gust edi­tion I sug­gested that the voting sys­tem move into the 21st cen­tury. The same goes for uni­ver­si­ties and other in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing. Most young peo­ple live large parts of their lives on­line. They do their buy­ing, their read­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing world­wide us­ing the in­ter­net. Then they go to univer­sity and they pay for ex­pen­sive trans­port, ex­pen­sive in­fras­truc­ture and ex­pen­sive pa­per. They at­tend sep­a­rate uni­ver­si­ties, each with its own lec­tur­ers, and if they change in­sti­tu­tions they might have to re­peat sub­jects.

Young peo­ple hand­write ex­ams. If you burn down the li­brary you burn down the brain of that in­sti­tu­tion.

Per­haps it is be­cause I got my qual­i­fi­ca­tions long ago through Unisa that I see things dif­fer­ently. Nowa­days there is no end to the amount of learn­ing that you can do on the in­ter­net. If all the money we spend on too many peo­ple and too much in­fras­truc­ture were put into elec­tronic meth­ods of learn­ing, fees would fall.

Give ev­ery stu­dent a tablet or lap­top com­puter or a smart­phone and Wi-Fi ac­cess and the world is at their fin­ger­tips. If the best lec­turer in physics is in Cape Town, the US, Cam­bridge or Bei­jing you can plug into their wis­dom at a frac­tion of the cost. For a lo­cal sub­ject like law you need only a cou­ple of lec­tur­ers in, say, crim­i­nal law in SA with tu­to­rial sup­port. Not only would costs fall, com­pe­ti­tion for those po­si­tions would im­prove the qual­ity of any sub­ject.

Although to this day I do not know what one of my Unisa lec­tur­ers looked like, I am not sug­gest­ing that ev­ery­body should do ev­ery­thing re­motely. There is a great deal of value in the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween young peo­ple on cam­puses and a lot of learn­ing is done by os­mo­sis. Stu­dents also play sports and in­ter­act cul­tur­ally. Much of the essence of any na­tion is gleaned from stu­dent in­ter­ac­tion.

What I am say­ing is that costs could be a frac­tion of what they are now. You don’t need a big li­brary at each univer­sity. Most re­search is now done elec­tron­i­cally and should be while the books are kept safe and sound. One com­pre­hen­sive elec­tronic li­brary for all uni­ver­si­ties would suf­fice.

Peo­ple will still have to get to­gether to ex­change ideas and ac­cess in­di­vid­ual help but it doesn’t have to come at the cost it does now. One of the lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties is of­fer­ing on­line cour­ses but the tu­ition cost is lit­tle dif­fer­ent from at­tend­ing full time be­cause all the costs are still in­curred.

Most of the on­go­ing learn­ing that prac­tis­ing lawyers do to keep up with the de­vel­op­ments in law is done at their desks star­ing at their com­puter screens. I learn more this way be­cause I don’t have to walk to the li­brary three floors down to get ac­cess, for in­stance, to the lat­est de­ci­sion of the Supreme Court of Ap­peal.

The world moves so fast th­ese days that ev­ery­one is bound to do con­tin­ued ed­u­ca­tion. Most pro­fes­sions make it com­pul­sory to keep up to date so that you don’t be­come the equiv­a­lent of a den­tist us­ing a hand drill. If we can spend most of our pro­fes­sional lives keep­ing up to date us­ing the in­ter­net why can’t we start our ca­reers in the same way?

This coun­try has many ways it needs to spend its lim­ited re­sources and sim­ply leav­ing ev­ery­thing as it is at high cost and giv­ing away free ex­pen­sive ed­u­ca­tion is not a fair so­lu­tion to the prob­lem where other peo­ple are wait­ing for hous­ing or health­care.

There are things we need to pre­serve and things we need to ra­tio­nalise. It is time that ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions and the gov­ern­ment got to­gether (prefer­ably on­line) and worked out ways to pro­vide the same ed­u­ca­tion at half the cost.

It is waste­ful to main­tain com­pa­ra­ble fa­cil­i­ties at ev­ery ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tion

Pa­trick Bracher (@PBracher1) is a di­rec­tor at Nor­ton Rose Ful­bright.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.