Earlier this year, I had to get my passport notarized for a U.S. postal service so I could receive scans of my mail while on the road. I was working in the Philippines at the time and I braced myself for a lengthy process involving a having to be physically in the US and a visit to a stuffy office with reams of paperwork.

To my surprise, the friendly customer service folks at Earth Class Mail said I could do it all online. I simply looked into a webcam, showed my passport to a public notary, and signed my name electronically. No fuss, limited expense, and all from the comfort of my hotel room.

Technology is shaking up everything. From the media to banking to governments, telecoms and taxis, sectors are evolving at lightning speed. There’s nothing new there, right? But what’s surprising and saddening is that one of our most important sectors – higher education – is lagging behind, to the detriment of students, employers, society, and the global economy.

A lack of education is at the root of some of the world’s biggest challenges. Making education accessible to the masses at an affordable cost has to be one of the most valuable things we can do to enable social and economic mobility.

Across emerging economies, millions of students are craving knowledge and opportunity, but their education systems can’t meet that demand. India, for example, has thousands of higher education teaching posts it can’t fill and needs 1.4 million student career counselors.

Regions like Asia and Africa have huge and growing youth populations whereas developed economies like the United States have ageing populations. As remote work becomes more common, multinationals will be scouring the globe for educated and skilled workers.

But unlike in the United States and other Western economies, governments of developing nations don’t have deep pockets to subsidize quality higher education through student debt.

And debt isn’t a long-term solution. Americans owe $1.48 trillion in student loan debt, spread among 44 million borrowers. Student loan debt is $620 billion more than American credit card debt. Default rates are staggering too. The U.S. method of subsidizing higher education also manipulates supply and demand, creating an unhealthy market dynamic. This can’t be sustainable.

Our higher education model is unsustainable in other ways. Our university structure has changed little in 100 years. Institutions are rigid and faculty members resistant to change, as research across Europe and the United States has found.

Then there’s the painful accreditation process and “the behemoth monstrosity of bureaucracy that is unnecessary” and holds innovation back, to quote Diane Auer Jones, special adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Her department is now trying to change this, but how long will it take?

We need our programs to be dynamic so we can prepare students for the future. Some 85 percent of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet, according to Dell Technologies. Yet, faculty members tell me it can take months or years to add modules to courses or to update programs.

Think Artificial Intelligence, cybersecurity, Bitcoin and blockchain. Companies and Apps can launch and fold in months. Students need up-to-date case studies, business models, strategies and tools, but our current structures and, to an extent, our regulatory environments don’t allow curricula to change quickly.

So students’ degrees are quickly becoming obsolete. I was shocked to read that computer science graduates have the worst employment rates of any subject in the UK. In India, 95 percent of engineers didn’t have the skills to take up software development jobs.

But hang on a minute - surely a university’s role is to teach students how to learn, rather than to teach them specific skills to land a job? That’s the approach of most faculty members, but students and employers think differently.

A Gallup survey showed that 96 percent of Chief Academic Officers were confident they’d prepared graduates for success in the workplace, while only 11 percent of business leaders agreed. Meanwhile, a McGraw Hill Education survey found that only 40 percent of college seniors felt their college experience had prepared them for a career.

In a study my organization, Nexford University, carried out with pollster IPSOS, 91 percent of students said their main motivation for going to university was to get a job, while only 33 percent of faculty members agreed that the primary goal of higher education was to prepare students for work.

We need to address this mismatch. University is expensive, it lands students in mountains of debt, but their education is not equipping them to find jobs. I am not a fan of change for the sake of change, but the status quo isn’t working.

Students are savvy and they’ll start to wonder why those who sell education aren’t adapting to give the buyers what they want. As they bank on their phone while a robot cooks their burger, they’ll start to ask: why is my university system so bureaucratic, my education so expensive and my courses out of date? And do I need to physically attend university at all when I can do most things online?

Some universities are finally starting to view students as consumers, but is change happening fast enough, or is disruption now inevitable?

Author's Bio: 

Nexford University enables greater social and economic mobility across the world by providing learners access to high quality, affordable, dynamic education that prepares them for the global workplace. We are creating a next-generation learning experience that will positively impact millions of lives around the world.