The keynote speaker at the Ottawa conference was Joseph Aoun, president of Northeastern University. The change he focused on – perhaps the most radical of all – is the shift away from the traditional, full-time, campus-based model of education.

In a country identified by big-name private and state schools, Aoun said only 15 per cent of American undergraduate students today get their education from that exclusive, extremely expensive model associated with collegiate sports and Norman Rockwell images of residential campuses.

The vast majority are now part-timers, older students, working adults seeking to upgrade their education and individuals whose location and circumstances make distance education their only option, said Aoun, whose university specializes in such learners, and in providing work experience – often overseas – as part of the package.

He calls this transformation “the rise of the rest,” and said the needs and expectations of this non-traditional cohort do not fit with a model that never particularly worried about how things turned out for graduates in later life.