India's latest official 5-year plan calls for increasing college enrollment by roughly 2 million students each year, to help it catch up with emerging economies like Brazil and China. Koller says meeting its goals would require India to build 1,500 new universities — when it can't staff its current ones. Scaled-up teaching through technology is its only hope.
Francisco Marmolejo, a longtime Mexican university administrator who now leads the World Bank's higher education efforts, said governments around the world are intrigued by the MOOCs, but also anxious. Technology's potential to solve the scale problem is obvious. But they fear the MOOCs will become an excuse to ignore the imperative of building local institutions.
Physical universities are "a place where you train to become a citizen," he said. "It is not the new technologies against the old system. It is the blended component that I believe may be the key."
In 1997, Marmolejo noted, the late management guru Peter Drucker predicted big university campuses would disappear within 30 years. He'll almost certainly be wrong about that. The importance of place, and human interaction, looks if anything to have been magnified.
But Drucker may well be proved correct in comparing the scale of the changes coming to higher education to the revolution unleashed by the printing press.
Universities "need to change and they will change," Marmolejo said. "Technology will absolutely help them to change."
Robbie Corey-Boulet reported from Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Follow Justin Pope on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Justin_Pope1