There have been some significant global developments in recent months in the provision of on-line education which support the view that we are on the verge of a change which will fundamentally challenge the traditional delivery of university courses.
While for many years, universities around the world have been providing options for on-line study in one form or another, the latest innovations involve partnerships and consortia made up of some of the very best universities in the United States, and now expanding to include significant international institutions in other nations.
At The University of Western Australia, we will continue to differentiate the UWA experience as a high-quality campus-based learning experience. Nevertheless, at an international level these new developments may represent just the beginning of one of the biggest challenges that we will have to face in the coming decade.
That's because anyone who has access to the internet will have the opportunity to study with some of the best institutions in the world. The difference is that instead of official credits leading to a degree, those who choose this form of study will only receive certificates of successful completion.
Such is the standing of the universities involved that they are happy to let the marketplace and prospective employers determine what value should be put on such certificates of completion.
Among the latest developments are two high-profile consortia. The first is edX established in May between Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which last month welcomed the University of California (Berkley).
The second is the Coursera consortium which was established by Stanford, Princeton, Penn and Michigan Universities. They've just been joined by another 12 leading universities including Johns Hopkins, Duke, Caltech, Toronto and Edinburgh.
A similar venture known as Udacity - has teamed up with the Pearson Group (the world's largest education publishing group) which will provide the quality assurance around assessment and testing.
Forbes magazine has speculated that "we may be witnessing the beginning of a fundamental revolution in higher education". It is a view being echoed by many in the US higher education sector who also believe that this is the start of a transformation in terms of operations and institutional structure.
Most important for UWA perhaps is the acknowledgement by many, including the Forbes correspondent, that there will be invaluable qualities that such systems can't replace "... such as the education and maturation process that comes from campus life, from dwelling and studying for four years with other students, aged 18-22, who are also growing and learning. The ties and networks we create at that age tend to be lasting, and they carry us through our adult lives."
This is central to what we must consider at UWA . We should not think that simply because we have one of the world's most beautiful campuses, with a majority of face-to-face teaching and research of global significance, that we will be unaffected by these new developments. We must continue to develop the quality of the total UWA experience to ensure our courses remains sought-after and relevant to students in new eras.