A group of five academics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a white paper in September aimed at generating discussion about their vision for an affordable ‘New Educational Institution’ (NEI) aimed at delivery a high-quality undergraduate education at “a significantly lower cost”.

Very different in form from any higher education institution in the United States currently, the proposed NEI would be residential in nature, and deliver a more fulsome education, including “substantive classes in the humanities and social sciences”. This is in response to increasing criticism that there is a disconnect between higher education and employability skills, and in recognition of the need to better prepare students for the world of work and more finely hone their critical thinking skills.

Other key features of the proposed NEI include: a greater emphasis on teaching over research, with promotions focused on teaching outcomes; a ‘flipped’ classroom approach where lessons are focused more on project-based learning; and a trimester model. Degrees would be reimagined as a series of ‘stackable’ micro-credentials, allowing greater flexibility and more granular acknowledgement of a student’s skill set.

The proposed NEI would also draw on concepts such as co-ops and internships and have a greater focus on students and learning than capital-intensive amenities. Amenities that drive the costs of university up (e.g. climbing walls), would be rejected in favour of partnerships with community providers of facilities and a “more thoughtful” approach to planning around the provision of extracurricular opportunities.

The proposed NEI may also consider outsourcing or a shared services approach to other facilities and infrastructure including residential buildings and libraries in a more capital-efficient approach to infrastructure.

Conversations around the NEI are in the early stages – a Project launch was held via a Zoom Virtual Summit on 15 November 2022, and another discussion forum is likely to be held in early spring. However, it is clear that the white paper’s release is generating considerable interest in both higher education and broader media.

Read the white paper here or visit the Project NEI site here.