According to QUT’s corporate engagement maestro Professor Michael Rosemann, in this rapidly shape-shifting digital era businesses and other enterprises face a choice: either of being disrupted, or being the disruptors.

In an analogy he made in a CMM In Conversation With interview, there are turkeys and there are butchers. And it makes sense to do all you can to ensure you are on the right side of the knife.

Universities are facing increasing pressures to adapt to the needs of 21st century students and employers.

The university “business model” – research focused and/or degree-granting – has held up pretty solidly and there seems to be no shortage of students desirous of a university education.

But hark … is that the distant sound of knives being sharpened?

Diverse and innovative

Today, the traditional university operation is not the only game in town. Angel List shows there are close to 650 higher education start-ups and more than 15,000 education newbies offering a range of diverse and innovative functions.

Increasingly there are relatively new players in the education mix such as California- and Hong Kong-based Age of Learning, China’s 17zuoye, and the Minerva Project university.

And if you want to study when and where you feel like it via a MOOC … no problem. There are plenty to choose from.

While none of these is likely to shatter the university model, it does mean that the landscape in which the university operates is evolving.

Metaphorically, the furniture in the chancellery is the same, but the view from the vice-chancellor’s window is very different than it used to be.

And it keeps changing. A completely new and bold model of study has recently entered the education marketplace, first in France and now in the US.

It is called Ecole 42 – and as Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy nerds will understand, 42 is the answer to “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything”. This is a title full of confidence.

Free education

Founded by French billionaire and serial innovator Xavier Niel, Ecole 42 is a college with a difference: it has no teachers, no syllabus, no formal entrance requirements, no fees, and offers no degrees or diplomas. Tu quoi?

As reported in Wired magazine, the coding school is part of Niel’s mission to “make talent and merit, not means, the gateway to a quality tech education”.

Niel explains that entry to the school is via a merit-based game – played by the 80,000 applicants a year, of which 25,000 finish.

“We take the 3,000 best and ask them to come to the school for a month – that’s 450 hours of 15-hour days, including Saturday and Sunday. After five or six days, a third of them leave. And then we take the 1,000 best,” he is reported as saying.

These win a free education, help in finding accommodation, loan guarantees if needed, and access to high-quality internships.

“Forty per cent don’t have a Baccalaureate, and half the students in this school are from poor families and wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Niel says.

The project-based curriculum consists of 21 modules designed by six staff and “apart from a five-minute instructional video and PDF, students are left to learn in groups”.

“After a month, they should be able to code in C; they’re challenged to build Tetris and Sudoku from scratch … They then move at their own pace: the fastest student finished school after 18 months; others will take five years.”

As an article in Quartz explains, Niel wanted to address two problems: “the lack of coding talent in France and the country’s entrenched inequality, which precludes poor kids who do not attend the country’s Grandes Écoles – elite universities – from the best job opportunities”.

New branch in the Bay

A new a branch of the school called 42 Silicon Valley has opened and is operating in the San Francisco Bay area, based on the same principles as above.

It bills itself as “the leading college for software engineering, coding and programming”, and says it is “disrupting engineering education and tech talent pipelines in the Bay”.

In a major breakthrough move, the school recently went into partnership with Apple subsidiary FileMaker “to develop the next generation of custom app developers”.

The partnership is described as “a strategic move to recruit the area’s top tech talent, gain digital and human competitive advantages, and feed recruiting pipelines for FileMaker Business Alliance partners”.

FileMaker VP Brad Freitag said that by partnering with 42 Silicon Valley, “we are able to connect their talented developers with our FileMaker community in what is truly a win-win situation”.

“We don’t care that students don’t have degrees … The way the 42 program is designed, as an employer, you have confidence in the knowledge and capacities 42 students have when you recruit because their entire program is mastery-based.”

And so, taking Michael Rosemann’s analogy, in the world of higher education the question needs to be asked: Who now is the butcher and who is the turkey?

Time will tell.


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