If you have read “A Scandal in Bohemia,” you will remember the scene where Sherlock Holmes smokes up the joint to find out where Irene Adler has hidden her most precious possession: a photograph of Irene with the king of Bohemia. Irene Adler outwits Holmes at the end, earning the epithet “the woman.”
The moral of the story: in times of crisis, you will rush to save that which is dearest to you.
Higher education is in crisis: what possession of theirs are universities trying to save? The fact that they are giving MOOC’s away for free points to one and only one thing: undergraduate education isn’t their most precious jewel. Research universities are not built for their undergraduates; they are built around the process of knowledge creation and the faculty that make that happen.
If knowledge creation is the purpose of a research university then postgraduate education is the means through which knowledge is created and replicated across generations. Unlike undergraduate education, PG education is hands on, project based and (human) labor intensive. I haven’t seen a single university make noises about handing out the keys to that store.
The moral of the story: if you really want to change the face of higher education, start with the precious jewel: post graduate learning. The future of higher education isn’t the MOOC, but the MOAT: Massive Online Apprenticeship and Training.