Is there a link between flexible access and ‘productivity’ in higher education?

Tony Bates, Let's Talk About Tech, Aug 01, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

A while back I challenged Tony Bates to expand on a model of educational productivity, and in this post bates begins his reply by outlining two aspects of such a model. His response, I think, illustrates the gulf between his thinking and mine. He describes as steps leading to 'higher order' goals set by governments: "equitable access (every qualified Ontario student), and economic development (ensuring that Ontario has a highly qualified work-force that can compete in an increasingly knowledge-based economy)." But the steps are based very much in traditional institution-based metrics: creating additional spaces in the PSE system, and "time to completion of a qualification," that is, a degree or certificate. He offers no way of measuring (that I can see) whether the traditional system is productive as compared to  alternative approaches. Who cares how many seats in programs or qualifications are available if they don't effectively improve access or meet economic goals? That's why I specified that we need a model - we need to get outside the traditional structure in order to assess whether it is working at all. What metrics would we use to compare (say, just to pick an example out of the air) 'offering PSE education through the traditional system' and 'giving every person $2500 to spend as they please'?

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