Thursday, September 18, 2014

Find Your Own River

In one of my favourite scenes of all time, Will Hunting gives a Harvard git a working over for trying to pass off other people's ideas as his own and make his buddy look bad.

His lessons:
1) Don't do that
2) You dropped $150k on an education you could've got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.

Education and Housing are two areas where I think we have got the wrong idea of how to make public goods accessible. You don't do it by increasing demand through loans - you do it by removing barriers, reducing transaction costs and increasing competition. Loaning people money while limiting the number of houses or places to study just pushes up prices. Simple.

Enter the internet. It doesn't solve the housing issue but like any industry where the model is based on secrecy or transaction costs - tick tock boom. Musicians had a purple patch. Well, middlemen did when they realised they can record live performances and distribute them charging a lot while paying a little. A fantastic business model, but not one that is sustainable. You can charge for live performances but ideas can't really be contained like that. Music is a good analogy for ideas. You can't charge someone for humming a tune they have heard, and the good ones stick (ok... some bad ones too).

Education is going to be disrupted in a similar way. Wikipedia replaced the World Book. Textbooks struggle to keep up with the internet. Fancy buildings create a wonderful atmosphere... but that is not what you are paying for. Great professors don't need to limit their classrooms to 400 people hanging from rafters and clogging the stairwells when they can provide high quality recordings with the same content. Best of all - peer to peer learning becomes easier and easier when we can connect our 7 billion global citizens. If you want to learn English, and I want to learn French/ Mandarin/ Zulu/ Arabic... let's chat. Skype? Whatsapp? Twitter? Even networking becomes less of a drawcard when you can develop relationships with people via social media.

I love the atmosphere of Oxford and Cambridge. Ever since I read 'The Power of One' I dreamed of one day being lucky enough to get to Oxford. Now the internet is democratising ideas.

While you may need someone to decide you are worthy of a scholarship or the financial muscle to make your own decisions, higher education is becoming much more accessible. In the short (<10min) clip below, Shai Reshef talks of an ultra-low cost degree programme they have put together. You only pay $100 for the exam. All you need do is find your own beautiful river to sit beside as you ponder, and a lot of those are free.

We live in exciting times.

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