That was nearly two decades ago. And yet universities survive and prosper. Drucker saw the rising costs of university education as undermining the edifice of the university. He thought it inevitable that substitutes such as online education would displace the traditional university.
That hasn't happened.Why so? An article in the FT puts it down to vested interests in higher education:
Currently teaching is delivered in much the same way in schools as it was 50 or even 100 years ago. A single teacher talks to a classroom full of pupils, who work with textbooks, paper and pens. Few pupils are examined online. Libraries are still full of reference books but no tablet devices. Not only is this model out of date but in many countries, including Britain and the US, it is not proving effective – especially at teaching the skills employers want for the workplace.
....Unfortunately, the educational establishment, at both secondary and university levels, is too slow to change. I suspect that a resistance to new techniques of learning is partly about protecting jobs and defending senior staff whose skills are outdated. Why on earth do schools in Britain still put so much emphasis on teaching French? They should be teaching languages more relevant to the 21st century, such as Mandarin or Spanish. Why can’t schools equip pupils with up to date information technology skills? Perhaps their instructors are not up to the task – or possibly their processes are wrong.
Well, I am not sure that's the whole story. We need to be realistic about what can be taught online and what cannot be taught. Some basic courses, yes. A range of basic arts, science and management courses can be taught. But medicine or higher science or engineering? You need labs for all these. You also need a fair degree of interaction between teacher and taught. And, yes, quality can be ensured only through rigorous exams that are difficult to operationalise on a mass scale.
There are other problems. Universities don't only teach. They are also into research (some would say of the leading universities that they are also into teaching). Is it possible to separate the production and imparting of knowledge? What would be the appropriate mechanisms for doing so? Can we researchers in specially funded institutions who do only research. And others at colleges who only need to teach. In the process, do we lose something? Finally, what about the benefits of student interaction on campuses, the advantages of networking etc?
We need to be realistic and walk on two legs, to start with. We need business models that will make mass provision of basic skills and knowledge viable through online education. Universities need to find a way to do this. However, it may be premature to think of online education as the only or even principal instrument of education, at least at the higher levels.