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Where have all the universities gone?

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Ten years ago, I made a presentation to the Board of Trustees and the Administration of a new university in Istanbul. They had been planning to massively transform an existing block of buildings into a temporary metropolitan campus at the edge of the City. Some years later, they would move to their own and proper campus to be built on a generous Government Land Grant outside of the City limits (which, by now, has become a popular residential suburb). I proposed, instead, creating 3–4 strategically-located Learning Centers to form a Learning Network, all digitally inter-connected and governed by the central Learning Management Administration. This structure would (1) eliminate the need for a central campus and thus significantly reduce construction costs, (2) reduce student/faculty travel times to the University (Istanbul is largely spread with over 14 million inhabitants), (3) allow students and faculty to conduct up-to-date research using global digital library resources at high speed, (4) allow faculty to design and broadcast lectures and research activity to attract and keep student attention, and (5) permit the University to pool high-talent faculty, a scarce resource in Turkey, with other universities. The audience gave me a standing ovation! The Chairman put his hand on my shoulder and said “they say, a good patient’s doctor comes to his feet”. But, when the newly-hired Rector summoned me a week later, he told me to simply forget my proposed hybrid learning model, because he did not believe in it and added “a real university has a central campus where learning happens largely face-to-face”.

Hybrid teaching/learning strategies demand a sharp focus and continuous investment on developing Learning Management Systems (LMS) in order to remain relevant and interactive. Alas, in 2020, we learnt how critically important this investment strategy was when COVID-19 hit and university campuses became inaccessible. Many attempted to adapt faculty to teach on-line, using make-shift equipment and general-purpose internet systems, which led to dismal results. However, the few that had consistently invested in the design and maintenance of hybrid learning systems and the requisite technologies excelled and now enjoy a significant comparative advantage. The European School of Management and Technology (ESMT, Berlin) is a good example. Over the years, they co-invested with the Imperial College London (ICL) to develop and maintain a unique online learning platform, The Hub. They use it to deliver nearly all degree and training programs on-line. No wonder ESMT and ICL are consistently ranked top-tier among European business schools.

Deniz Saral, PhD, (Prof. Dr. emeritus), Co-founder of EDUKASOLUTIONS

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