The World Economic Forum announced back in April that the COVID19 pandemic has changed education forever. It noted that 1.2 billion children worldwide were out of the classroom, and as a result, even in the first few months of the world pandemic, education-and the way our children are taught-had taken a dramatic change “whereby teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms” .
The prestigious Times Higher Education published that, over the past year, US institutions have “switched to online learning, cancelling spring break trips and students studying abroad in China, Italy and South Korea have been encouraged to return home and complete their studies”.
Even the National Conference of State Legislatures stated for the record in its article “Higher Education Responses to Coronavirus (COVID19)” stated that the outbreak of the pandemic “has become a major disruption to colleges and universities across the country, with most institutions cancelling in-person classes and moving to online only instruction”.
Compared with many public and private sector organisations, the educational establishment has been fairly quick to react. But there was one, almost lone voice before the novel coronavirus struck, who had put his money where his mouth was, and had been singing the praises of online higher education for years.
William Erbey, an American businessman and an investor in, amongst other things, educational institutions, established a service known as Scholarly.co. The institution facilitates the distribution of knowledge from the best teachers and colleges to students and working professionals-all online.
Erbey and his wife are highly committed to education, as they believe the best way to improve the world is by getting people better educated. Bill politely said, “I’m not sure our own education system has kept up with the explosion of information and data in the world”, in a recent interview with Ed Harrison.
Erbey stated that education today has not really changed in its basic business model since the beginning of time. “You bundle the kids up, send them to the scholar and they sit there for a while and basically learn”. Looking at it from a retail perspective, he says, higher education is similar to a brick and mortar retail store.
“Education is the last bastion of where physical presence is absolutely required to sell the product. That’s not to say there isn’t a real value in having children and young adults being able to go away to school. It’s a maturation process where they are in a protected environment, and they get to socialise with other young adults” he said.
A few years ago when online learning lived on the periphery of the educational establishment, Erbey seemed almost radical when he advocated a shift “where perhaps one or two years would be spent on campus and the remaining year or two studied online”.
Of course, at the time there was a major financial advantage to this method of learning-it was comparatively cheaper and more effective.
Now more than ever since corona-struck colleges and universities are offering an open-shut-open policy of further education dependent on the lockdown stringencies of the individual country, online education has been essential for its continuation. “It’s a lot cheaper online than getting students, bundling them up and sending them to the Hilton hotel for quite a while. There are many of them who become in debt up to the eyeballs and will never be able to pay off their fees” Bill added.
The World Economic Forum talks about “changing the educational imperative” noting that the pandemic had utterly disrupted an educational system that many would assert was already losing its relevance”. Its conclusion is a glowing commendation of Erbey’s educational philosophy and activities; “what has been made clear throughout this pandemic is the importance of disseminating knowledge across borders, companies and all parts of society”.
Erbey’s philanthropic enterprise in the realm of education has become legendary, and recently brought him to the fore. He and his wife Elaine have donated more than 90% of their net worth to institutions of higher learning. According to Fortune magazine in December 2014, Erbey’s worth stood at $1.8 billion.
Together Elaine and Bill founded Scholarly.co. “We help students locate the right colleges and courses to pursue their aspirations, utilising broadcasting capability to deliver live online education”. The couple have developed outreach programs to match international students with colleges and universities for both on-campus as well as live virtual classrooms.
A major concern for the educational sector at large is the percentage of international students that make up the domestic higher education markets. In 2019 in the US alone, Chinese students made up 33.7% of the foreign student population, while Indian students comprise 18.4%. These figures are expected to plummet this year and for the foreseeable future, which highlights the importance of Erbey’s mission to deliver live online education.
“American institutions of higher learning are a national treasure and sought-after all over the world. We are utilising System73, where students can interact real time with their professors and fellow students around the world. Not only will this enhance revenue but in certain circumstances it will enable colleges and universities to deliver higher quality education at a lower cost”.
By utilising international students, educational institutions will be able to fill empty seats and at full tuition fees, generating the much-needed revenue, to defray the costs of a college education for the entire student body.
The future of higher education is unlikely ever to be the same. Once again William Erbey has proved himself to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right philosophy and service.