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Flying High
A New Crop of Hands-On Universities Is Transforming How Students Learn

Her vision is far removed from the traditional model of higher education. But it will soon become a reality: in July, after six years as dean of graduate education at MIT, the materials scientist will leave to found a new university. It should open in the next five years. It will exemplify a trend that is reshaping how some students learn. Geoff Mulgan of Nesta, a British think-tank, calls it the “rise of the challenge-driven university”.

In the past 15 years dozens such institutions have been set up, from Chile to China. Many more are planned. Though they differ in scope, they share an approach. They reject the usual ways of getting young adults to learn: lectures, textbooks, slogs in the library, exams—and professors. Instead students work on projects in teams, trying to solve problems without clear answers. Companies often sponsor the projects and provide instructors. Courses combine arts, humanities and sciences. (The slogan of Zeppelin University, founded in 2003 in Germany, reads: “The problems within our society are ill-disciplined, and so are we!”)