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Is free education a bad thing for human equality?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
28th March 2013

Here is my own take first:

“Technologies like MOOC open a emancipatory potential, as they open access to knowledge to more people; but this only works without a faith in technological determinism; instead, it needs an integrative approach geared towards general social inclusion and epuipotentiality; whatever the potential problems with universally free mooc education will be, and it will in any case be limited ‘on its own’, it’s not like current education is free and equal; in fact; social progress through education has pretty much stalled since the neoliberal 80s and actually regressed; but criticising moocs in this way is like opposing writing and printing, which also initially increased inequality, until social movements took it upon themselves to generalize access to its benefits. So the only right attitude is to rejoice in the new possibilities offered by Mooc’s; but use them wisely in an integrated emancipatory politics and in the context of enabling and empowering a general participation in the production of knowledge by all human peers;”

Here is the counter-argumentation; via Steve Lohr:

Michael A. Cusumano, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T., raises a different issue in an essay published this week: the economics of MOOCs and the implications.

His article appears in Communications of the ACM, the monthly magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, and he had circulated a version of it earlier to his M.I.T. colleagues. After reading it, L. Rafael Rief, M.I.T.’s president, asked Mr. Cusumano to serve on a task force on the “residential university” of the future, including online initiatives.

“My fear is that we’re plunging forward with these massively free online education resources and we’re not thinking much about the economics,” Mr. Cusumano said in an interview.

The MOOC champions, Mr. Cusumano said, are well-intentioned people who “think it’s a social good to distribute education for free.”

But Mr. Cusumano questions that assumption. “Free is actually very elitist,” he said. The long-term future of university education along the MOOC path, he said, could be a “few large, well-off survivors” and a wasteland of casualties.

Mr. Cusumano’s concerns grow out of his study of the software and media industries in the face of price pressure from free, open-source software and digital distribution over the Internet. Two-thirds of the public companies in the software industry disappeared between 1998 and 2006, as companies failed or were acquired. In the media world, Mr. Cusumano contends that newspaper and magazine companies — including The New York Times Company — made a strategic mistake by giving away their publications free on the Web. The online pay walls that publications have since put up, he said, seem to be helping to stabilize things, but only after a precipitous decline.

Give-away pricing in education, Mr. Cusumano warns, may well be a comparable misstep. The damage would occur, he writes in the article, “if increasing numbers of universities and colleges joined the free online education movement and set a new threshold price for the industry — zero — which becomes commonly accepted and difficult to undo.”


2 Responses to “Is free education a bad thing for human equality?”

  1. Todd S. Says:

    It seems Mr Cusumano has conflated education with the business of running a university. He fears that we “aren’t thinking much about the economics”. To that I say, “about damn time”! Letting economics guide all of our decisions is a big part of why we’re in the sorry state we’re in.

  2. Héctor Says:

    Muy interesante. Para los que queréis compartir con gente cercana:


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