Higher Education Bundling, Unbundling,Rebundling, and the End of the University As We Know It

The term “bundling” is a situation where the seller combines different items into one package and sells you the whole bunch even if you only wanted one or two items. The term “unbundling”on the other hand is regarded as the process through which products previously sold together are separated into their constituent parts. In higher education, it has been used to refer to the process of disaggregating educational provision into its component parts, very often with external actors. And the term “rebundling” has been used to refer to the reaggregation of those parts into new components and models.

Bundling, unbundling and rebundling have been the norm in industries such as the banking and the computer industry, as well as legal services, and the music industry.

 The music industry for example, bundles music that consumers want with the music that they don’t want (the rest of the album). Also, with the television industry, with the emergence of Netflix and others, viewers can now watch individual shows, rather than channels or networks. Viewers are given a mechanism for paying only for the shows they watch rather than the thousands they don’t.

Another industrial example is Uber. Its market share is about $40 billion. Currently, it owns no vehicle but it has been able to alter consumer behavior with their unbundled service model. Take Airbnb with its market cap of  $10 billion. It owns no hotel rooms but it is able to provide accommodation services through its unbundled approach to business.

Bundling has been part and parcel of the university system over the years. Institutions of higher learning provide a wide range of educational products and services bundled into a single package and offer to prospective students. The bundle may include offering courseware and providing certification after fulfilling certain course requirements or meeting the required credit hours. In return, universities charge tuition for the bundled product and services.

The emergence of digital technology is changing the way educational institutions and other industries provide their products. We are seeing a transition from service bundling to unbundling and rebundlingof products and services. These processes are happening in different parts of higher educational spectrum, through innovative forms of packaging academic content, teaching, learning and assessment.

Alternative credentials, usually shorter and cheaper by comparison, has captured the imagination of education reformers. Today’s learners (especially millennials) are changing the face of higher education by demanding alternative paths to knowledge and skills attainment. Thus, digital badges, bootcamps, microdegrees, microcredentials, certificates, and MOOCs, and other types of qualifications are becoming more relevant than traditional degrees. These are now becoming the norm rather than the exception and could change  the way today’s universities function.

Flexibility has become one of the key features of educational unbundling in higher education. Institutions of higher education are coming together to form educational systems and conglomerates. These is ease of access, movement, portability and mobility among these family of institutions to enable students at one campus register for courses and transfer their credit to their primary institution if those courses are not being offered at their primary institution.

Today, “Just-In-Time” (JIT) education has emerged as an equivalent to SaaS. With this trend, people looking to upgrade their skills acquire only what they need, when they need it, and go for additional knowledge or skills when they need more.

In his “College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education”, author Ryan Craig, managing director of University Ventures explores how education is trending away from the swollen bundled beast, and is fast becoming a multi-faceted, online-friendly market of educational options that will meet potential students wherever they are willing to pay. His book is a vision of the future that resonates with those who are truly in the business of higher education.

He notes that the rankings race of every college trying to be the next Harvard are betraying their strength. According to him, colleges have traditionally used the “the four R’s … Rankings, Research, Real Estate, Rah (sports) in their ranking. This has contributed  to rising costs—rather than curricular workplace relevance. Due to this focus, higher education is risking a “dystopian counterfactual” valuation of degrees as hollow representations of bureaucratic endurance rather than employability.

The gist of Craig’s argument is that consumers are pushing education towards greater convenience, portability, versatility, and lower cost, creating a collective market pressure that challenges traditional colleges to change or die.

As the founding director of Bridgepoint Education, one of the largest online universities in the United States, he argues that schools that are slow to adapt to online education will drown in the current of this mounting storm, those that remain ahead of the curve will ride the waves to success.

Craig sees the future of higher education in online degrees that unbundle course offerings to offer a true bottom line return for the majority of students in terms of graduation, employment, and wages. His book provides details that the United States higher education will undergo. Prominent among the changes is the transformation from packaged courses and degrees to  unbundled course offerings.

What then is the Next Big Thing that will save higher education in this new normal era with the global pandemic.  Craig will argue that educational unbundling where degrees are broken down into bite-sized competencies that can be identified and consumed for a given job without any unwanted leftovers, a just-in-time education warehouse hosted on an online platform that can make efficient bridges between almost-qualified candidates and the jobs of their dreams. and the role of technology in higher education is the future of higher education.

In today’s fast-changing world, not every learner has the time — or resources — to earn a traditional, credit-based degree. With alternative credentialing, students can take the knowledge they’ve gained from non-degree coursework to improve their skills and employability.

Given contemporary trends, there is the need for colleges to begin paying serious attention to the value proposition of what students get when they pay. This becomes possible when individuals own their competencies and allow institutions to manage their profiles.

Nana Prof. Osei Darkwa, President
African Virtual Campus

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