The Future of Education is Borderless

By Steven Maxwell

The entire formal education apparatus seems to reinforce the repetition of learning from past generations rather than forging new ideas and new applications for a world changing at an increasingly rapid pace. As internet connectivity expands and the speed of accessing information increases, the opportunities for formal learning should also accelerate. After all, information itself is already borderless for much of the world’s population that has access to a free and open internet. One would have to assume that the barriers for entry to the information contained within the world’s universities also should fall.

We often look at the trends in digital media, automation, and the decentralization of products and services as a transition from a jobs economy to a skills economy. This is most certainly true, but is our formal education properly keeping pace with new realities? Is the nature of “getting a degree” in a single area of study the best approach in the modern world? Or might it be best to gain a breadth of disciplines and skills most useful in an expanding world, both geographically and economically?

In my experience, any opportunity one can find to expand their knowledge beyond the borders of their own physical surroundings and culture is particularly beneficial. One of my foundational personal experiences was postponing my journey from high school to college by taking several months to travel throughout the UK. While I didn’t enroll in any accredited form of study, nor was I aware of great opportunities to further my formal education through programs like Oxford Summer School, the education I received from attending lectures, visiting museums and speaking with a whole new group of human beings taught me immeasurable skills that I have applied later in life.

For example, I now reside outside of my home country, but my transition from the United States to a different culture was not something I would describe as “culture shock.” To be sure, I encountered significant differences that caught me off-guard, but I already had the confidence of knowing that I could walk anywhere on the planet and find the tools and the people necessary to adapt and ensure success. A short-term program in another country is a perfect way to test the waters and alleviate many of the fears that we are indoctrinated to have.

Unfortunately, those who wish to pursue a long-term education beyond their own borders are often penalized for doing so. According to Business Insider and several other reports I have come across over the years, international students face much higher tuition costs. In the United States, this has served to subsidize American universities:

[R]ecent data from SelfScore, a company providing financial services to international students, reveals that foreign students pay up to three times more than in-state students at public universities, “effectively subsidizing tuition costs for domestic students and functioning as a bailout for universities.”

Of course, this is all while student debt has reached astronomical levels in the United States. Reports also indicate that international students are often a key component for any host country’s economic development. We are finally starting to see indications that countries are competing for new employees by offering a range of incentives to become residents, but strangely we have yet to see such a borderless approach when it comes to incentivizing the students who will help build the most productive new crop of employees.

It might take a while longer before institutional education is willing to let go of the reins that drive their often staid and bureaucratic approach, but it will most certainly happen.  Opening up borders in this regard will maintain the relevance of formal study during a time when most of the world’s knowledge is already at our fingertips, and it will provide new areas of growth for the surrounding economy upon which universities rely.

In the meantime, for those who are willing to expand their horizons in the pursuit of a more diverse skill set, there is more choice and more opportunity for supplemental education and experience than ever before to become a success of your own design. Now is the time to begin preparing for what is sure to be a very different future.

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