Education: Is the Future in the Hands of Google Type Companies

January 15, 2020

I spotted a news item which would not be fodder for either this blog or our DarkCyber video program. Then one of the research team emailed me a link to an apparently unrelated article. Then it struck me: The future of education is probably going to be ceded to big companies and sources of revenue which may have interesting avocations.

Let me explain.

The first news item reports that “US Colleges Struggling with Low Enrollment Are Closing at Increasing Rate.” The article, from a source with which I am not familiar, asserts:

For 185 years this college campus in Vermont was teeming with students. Now it sits empty. In January, the school announced it would be closing. ‘I’ve had a very long professional career. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do – to stand in front – in our auditorium with 400 people and telling principally students, but faculty and staff, that we wouldn’t be opening this fall,” said  Bob Allen, President at Green Mountain College.

Sure enough. The institution is a goner.

Then the article which I spotted but decided was not suitable for this blog. Its title? “UVM Gets $1 Million from Google for Open Source Research.” The write up from the delightfully named WCAX asserts:

The unrestricted gift is to support open-source research. Open source is a type of computer software, where source code is released under a license, and the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose.

We know that august institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will deal with individuals of questionable character when the cash pay off is big enough.

Let’s assume these items are accurate. Now let’s look into a future in which universities become increasingly desperate for money.

Who will provide the dough?

Answer: People who have the money and have a need.

Why? Let me suggest a few reasons:

  1. Access to lower cost talent
  2. Opportunity to recycle research into commercial products
  3. Force students to “like” big companies. See “‘Techlash’: Positive Perceptions of Facebook, Google Crumble on Campuses.

So who owns what the grant money generates, particularly if the output is open source? What happens if Amazon uses Google funded open source as part of its platform? Who determines how the money is used or, in the case of MIT, how its origin is obfuscated? Is academic R&D a more efficient way to generate innovation?

Net net: The financial situation is likely to lead to the equivalent of corporate naming rights to NFL football stadia. And if you don’t like, don’t attend.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2020

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