Last Friday Manu Sharma came in and gave us a review of Richard Florida’s talk in Ottawa.  Manu came with high praise for Richard Florida as a speaker and a starter of thoughtful and controversial conversation, which is high praise coming from Manu as he is not easily impressed.

One of the points that hit home from Florida’s talk was that research universities as we know them today will become disintermediated.

dis·in·ter·me·di·a·tion (d s- n t r-m d – sh n). n.  “Disintermediation is giving the user or the consumer direct access to information that otherwise would require a mediator, such as a salesperson, a librarian, or a lawyer. Observers of the Internet and the World Wide Web note that these new technologies give users the power to look up medical, legal information, travel, or comparative product data directly, in some cases removing the need for the mediator (doctor, lawyer, salesperson) or at the very least changing the relationship between the user and the product or service provider.”

While Florida was speaking mainly of research institutions, a similar point for post graduate education was made by Michael Wesch, an award winning professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas state university.  There is a disconnect between the evolution of our educational institutions and the evolution of our technology, culture, and opportunities for learning.    Learning is now easy – thanks to the open availability of information.  North American education remains expensive and fragmented. It is also painfully clear as a student that a North American professor’s primary duty is not to teach – it is to perform research.

The question is, if the current state continues, what value will the educational institution provide in the future? Prestige – maybe.  Learning – this will become debatable.   Once this value lowers, so will prestige in time.

I am currently completing a masters degree in Engineering Management.  While the theoretical knowledge I am obtaining from the university has been irreplaceable, the thought provoking conversations occurring in TalentBridge have surpassed those occurring in my master’s program.  That is what needs to change in order to create value for our institutions.  Especially at a post graduate level – it should be the norm, and not the exception, to have professors that lead thought provoking, perhaps even controversial, discussions.  Otherwise, every student will need a TalentBridge, a mentor, a learning community to augment their education.   Anyone can read textbooks on their own.  But wait – isn’t that what I’m paying thousands of dollars to the universities to provide me with in the first place?

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