The Business of Metaversities - Part 2
Before you google “metaversities”, in this series of articles, the term is intended as the digital twin of a university campus OR a degree/part of a degree that takes place entirely online in a metaverse-like environment. Some institutions such as the University of Salford in the UK created virtual worlds for special events (1) . This kind of case study is not going to be taken into consideration.
In part 1, I explained that metaversities might bring pedagogical benefits, but probably not to the ones who cannot afford them. That is a summary of a rather long article of course. I mainly focused on US colleges creating digital twins of their campuses and/or enabling students to complete certain modules of a degree in virtual reality.
As well as enabling students to study in a metaverse-like environment, the business of metaversities includes new ways to finance one’s education using cryptocurrency.
Let’s take it from the start. Although defining the term “metaverse” is a complex endeavour, let’s assume it has one or both of the following characteristics:
1 A 3D virtual world that can be explored using a virtual reality headset
2 A financial model based on crypto
Please don’t let this oversimplification turn into verbal abuse. After all, defining the metaverse is not the purpose of this article.
Going back to metaversities, Aventis is an example of an environment that has both of the aforementioned characteristics (2).
Aventis is actually a graduate school in Singapore (3). It existed long before it branched into the metaverse. Most of the programmes are delivered online and the certifications are issued by UK institutions. Though Aventis also issues its own certifications for some courses.
They now have the “Aventis Metaverse”. From my understanding, their metaverse gives students access to the same courses of their graduate school. However, that happens in a virtual 3D environment and learners pay for the courses by purchasing an NFT. Such NFT is purchased using real life currency. After a student has completed a course, they earn their money back.
I wrote “from my understanding” in bold because whilst I can claim to have decent writing skills and knowledge of pedagogy , I am not an NFT/WEB 3 expert. I actually reached out to Shaun Sung, the Chief Metaverse Officer (on December 14th). I had many more doubts. To this day (Jan 29th), I still have not received a reply. Don’t get me wrong, the Aventis Metaverse has secured funding and strategic partners. The Chief Metaverse Officer might not be interested in replying to a commoner such as myself. But the thing is, Aventis Metaverse seems to be designed for commoners.
As stated in their whitepaper (4) The rising tuition costs, student debt and layers of intermediaries, including universities, shut out many prospective students. It also means that quality education is overwhelmingly centered around global elites. Their metaverse claims to tackle this challenge.
Long story short, if I identify as an individual affected by such challenge, I still will not find a clear and easy way to understand HOW MUCH ONE OF THEIR PROGRAMMES ACTUALLY COSTS.
NFT people (or whatever you want to call yourself), please help me understand!
Enough with the complaints, let’s get to the bottom of it.
The mission of Aventis Metaverse is to make their courses accessible and affordable. Kudos to them. However, I have two concerns:
1 It there a risk that the metaverse version of Aventis Graduate School will become the “university of the poor”? As if recruitment processes were not discriminatory enough, those who will have completed the programmes by purchasing an NFT pass will forever be labelled as the ones who “attended the cheaper course”. Assuming the NFT pass is cheap that is. Unless, they can keep the way in which they completed the course a secret.
2 It took a while for employers to start taking online degrees seriously. According to the TIME, back in 2010, 66% of human resources managers said they viewed job applicants with online degrees less favourably than those with campus degrees (5).
However, by the end of the decade those numbers had flipped: a 2018 study published by Northeastern University found 61% of HR managers "firmly believe that online learning is of equal or greater quality to more traditional methods. (5).
Still, that took a decade. So, the question is, how long will it take for employers to start taking “metaverse degrees” seriously? What’s going to happen to the ones that completed programmes by purchasing the NFT in the meantime?
I want to believe the HR industry will leapfrog a decade long of mistrust towards alternative ways of getting a degree this time, and metaverse graduates will be taken as seriously as their more traditional counterparts.
For now, all I see is an NFT pass to make the courses of a graduate school in Singapore accessible and affordable. Whilst all I saw happening in the US was big tech donating headsets to historically black colleges (see part 1 of this series of articles for more details); as well as the use of virtual reality in American universities resulting in a very different experience between the lucky ones who can afford a headset and a fast internet connection, and the not so lucky ones accessing the virtual world from an old laptop with an unstable connection.
All in all, whether the metaverse (whatever that means) will act as an equaliser in a classist tertiary education system still remains to be seen. It seems like we are once more preaching the gospel of tech-solutionism to try and solve a complex systemic problem such as making education truly affordable and available to all.
Perhaps, my dreams of tech justice are as utopian as the promises being made by the actors in the business of metaversities space. That’s how I see it. But I do hope there is more to it than meets the eye.