No one buys a house anymore – at least not in the developed world – because it has electricity, or flush toilets. And I don’t believe students register for particular higher education institutions anymore because they have websites and other internet aps. I was reminded by John Naughton in a seminar he gave last week, of something that has seemed to me to be obvious for some time: that the internet is now a ‘common utility’. And like other common utilities we take it for granted and only appreciate its value when it’s not there – we expect all institutions to have websites – but aren’t impressed by their existence. Many of my colleagues still seem to believe that the internet a novel and ‘attractive’ marketable commodity/service. In their world students value and are attracted to an institution by the good internet services it provides, in mine student simply expect it- but that doesn’t it is something they are willing to pay much for.
My analogy is with the music industry. People now expect to download music – legally and illegally; cheaply or even for free. They don’t value this activity in the sense of being willing to pay a lot of money for it – they just expect it to be there. What they are now willing to pay a lot of money for are live performances. Once live performances promoted the sales of recorded music, now it is the other way round. The following quote is from a submission to Parliament by the UK Music Industry in Feb this year:
An ever increasing number of people both within the UK and abroad are choosing to spend their holiday money within the UK attending music events and festivals. Live music in the nation’s vast array of music venues and festivals each year attract visitors from all over the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
The O2 arena in London, for instance, since opening has already attracted 12 million visitors and is now the largest ticketed entertainment venue in the whole world. The Cavern Club is at the centre of Liverpool’s tourist trade and draws in half a million visitors each year. Glastonbury festival annually accounts for approximately £73 million in spending, £36 million of which is spent directly within the local economy.
If we took this business model seriously and applied it to higher education we would develop ‘education festivals’ on the model of music festivals. These would be short duration, large scale intense, immersive, emotional as well as intellectual, experiences. Instead of getting out my tent and wellingtons for this year’s WOMAD, The Big Chill or Cropredy, I would be getting them ready for a Big Think Festival. Sadly in the Open University we once had the making of such festivals – they were called OU summer schools. Every summer we all packed our bags to stay in student residences and argue, dance, and drink with students during the waking hours when we weren’t teaching them. Friendships and marriages were made and broken, minds were changed and expanded, digestions were temporarily disrupted and we all went home a bit different from how we were when we arrived. But the University decided they were too much trouble and not profitable enough ? I think we need a partnership with Mean Fiddler