“Without modernizing as the world changes, individual welfare will suffer, economic needs will go unmet, and urgent, complex social problems will go unsolved,” he added. “What is needed is redefinition of education, to equip students for the modern world.”

Against this backdrop of change, traditional higher education institutions risk obsolescence unless they continue evolving with the times.

“Incumbent educational institutions in developed countries are facing an existential crisis as the cost vs. return ratio of a traditional college or even master’s level education gets worse over time,” Altman said.

Perhaps part of the answer to survival for these institutions can be found in the developed world, where some countries with aging populations have already adopted the concept of lifelong learning to encourage citizens to undergo periodic retraining to ensure skill sets remain relevant. For example, Singapore’s Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity was founded in 2016 to provide education, training and career progression for all citizens.

Chin said the trend was likely to catch up across the world, where “education will become more of a lifelong journey where you alternate between developing a skill (at work) and getting the certification for it (in school).”

At the same time, he acknowledged that “the boundaries between education and work will get more blurred” as lifelong learning proliferates.

Others believe that good old-fashioned higher education offers offline experiences that will simply be challenging to replicate in the digital space.

“Organized educational settings and programs give us a social environment within which we educate ourselves, and this social context has phenomenally great importance,” Miller said.

Miller said strong universities played a multiplicity of roles within a nation’s ecosystem, while some even go on to play significant global roles. This was, in his opinion, something that online courses were unlikely to erode or displace.

“That is why universities have endured over the past 1,000 years, and will continue to endure for the next 1,000 in one form or another,” Miller said, acknowledging that “there will be a lot of change, and there will be a changing competitive landscape and dynamics.”

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