U.S. professor says Net to revolutionize schools

The Internet will end the university as we know it as Web-based education eliminates the need for brick-and-mortar institutions, a U.S. university president said Tuesday.

Speaking at a meeting sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Gerald Heeger, president of University of Maryland University College, said the growing awareness of online education among working adults promises new business opportunities for higher-learning institutions.

UMUC is one of 11 degree-granting institutions in the University System of Maryland and has been dedicated to part-time adult learning since 1972.

The school offers online bachelor’s degrees in 15 areas and master’s degrees in 10 areas, all of which can be completed online.

According to Heeger, the school has an online enrollment of over 40,000 for the 1999-2000 academic year. That number is projected to increase to around 75,000 for the coming academic year.

These numbers are the largest among Web-based schools worldwide, said Lynne McNamara, UMUC’s director of program development in Asia. Part of the reason for the popularity of online courses is the increasing need for continuing education among businesspeople, Heeger said. “In the past decade, people realized lifelong learning is no longer (just) a nice thing,” Heeger said. Rather, it has become “an absolute necessity,” as acquired skills can now become outdated in a matter of months, he said.

The need to constantly upgrade skills has propelled “50 million people into learning in the U.S. today,” Heeger said, adding that some institutions, including prestigious ones such as Oxford, are struggling to find a business model to tap the potential market.

Heeger also disputed critics who complain that online learning will end the traditional university. He argued that it will bring about a new breed of global and Web-based universities.

Heeger said UMUC’s online courses put more emphasis on student-faculty and student-student interaction than regular courses.

He also said online education not only provides flexibility in time and location for study, but also offers better research capabilities through the Internet.

Online education will change the shape and concept of universities and colleges, he said, adding that the change will come soon. “It will be an exciting five years,” he said.