Free Economy: How Can University Be Free?

Over the past few years whenever one needs to search for any information they just use Google. The same is true when one is searching for directions, they just use Google Maps. For a reliable email system, people in the know use Gmail. All of this service for free. The Google experience brings meaning to the saying: “The Best Things In Life Are Free”. Google (now Alphabet) has shown the world how to enable access and distribution of information for free.

It has mastered the Free Economy model. This however does not mean, to develop and maintain Google is free. Some of the best well paid people work at Google. The technology infrastructure behind the Google platform is the most robust in the industry. Recently, when the US government was implementing the Government Health website it decided to call on some of the best minds from Google. The company is just one of the few technology platforms that is used globally for free.

If Google, can offer such an important service in society for free, what is stopping academic institutions in South Africa to develop a free economic model?

Part of the challenge for universities is that they are old and big institutions that were built in a different economic era. For universities to adopt a free economic model the entire university system would have to be overhauled and transformed. The fact that universities have always been operating in a particular way does not mean they cannot be changed. Especially when the economic reality requires a different type of a university.

In response to a call for more access to universities the leadership in these institutions need to work towards a radical change immediately.

Universities need to learn from companies in the technology sector that have managed to offer important services for free. These companies include:

  • Google
  • Facebook and
  • Twitter

All of these companies offer their services for free to the public. All of them share 3 common traits that have enabled them to implement the Free Economic Model and these traits are:

  1. Innovation
  2. Entrepreneurship and
  3. Leadership

University leaders need to start being innovative,entrepreneurial and show real leadership to make universities accessible.

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