I was reminded of the power and reach of the internet last week when the Barclays article below was mentioned in the popular FT Alphaville Markets Live blog and immediately went viral, (well, in a "bit of a snuffle and sneeze," kind of way).
A more emphatic example was over the weekend when the number "158.723" went completely intergalactic in Google Trends. I'd never heard of it either. Apparently it's a Dewey Decimal number that refers to the psychobabble section in libraries and indicates, "burnout." 158.723 was mentioned on a blog called PostSecret, to which people send their little secrets, or big ones, on a digital postcard. The note then, that has so far taken the total number of hits on the site to 414m read,
"I have a case of 158.723 and it is turning me into the kind of librarian that I hate."
Obviously, I hope this doesn't catch on; I have enough trouble remembering my telephone number, never mind a bunch of Dewey Decimals, whatever they are.
Being left with slack jawed astonishment at these numbers I'm left to conclude that there are an awful lot of people who really should be doing better things with their time than searching, "158.723," and that we really ought to be doing much, much more with the internet.
Given the outrage with which the lunar trajectory in the increase in student fees has been rightly met, and given so many students in the UK have very little "contact time with tutors," (as little as two or three hours a week in many cases), isn't there a strong value proposition in radically uprating the Open University and taking it mainstream? That is, it would become normal and acceptable for students to include it as one of their five university choices.
It seems to me that British universities are places where many of our pampered academics devote themselves to their research and their unceasing quest to be "published." It's a world where students are often a necessary inconvenience and where the academic year is punctuated by long holidays to get rid of them. Many courses could easily be completed in two years rather than three if a more rigorous approach to learning was adopted, and for that we need look no further than the better US universities who have taken the novel approach of having mandatory lectures every day.
The OU has come a long way since the 1960's and 70's when every lecture on BBC2 seemed to be given by a bearded leftie in Womens Studies............ or a Bearded Leftie in Chemical Engineering, one being as unfathomable as another. What the OU requires though is a big uplift in prestige and that can come in three ways; from high level patronage, from having the best lecturers in the world, (who also don't need to physically be on site), and from employers.
The more I ponder the issue, that we require and encourage our young to physically go to the other end of the country to get a pedestrian degree from barely visible lecturers in the digital age is frankly plain silly. Clearly, vested interests will prevent serious change, just as the cost of improving university education is falling on the young, with little government pressure on the colleges to up their game, but there is a definite and yawning market opportunity there.