Last month, Tim Marshall’s blog post suggested five ways in which universities and colleges could respond to a changing landscape, the fifth of which was “Seeing over the Horizon”. Whilst confidently predicting the future of UK higher and further education over the next decade would tax the prognostic powers of Faith Popcorn, it is possible to identify at least four drivers of change.
1. Demographic changes.
As any fan of Freakonomics will tell you, the impact of demography can be easy to miss but difficult to overstate. Universities and colleges will face demographic concerns on two fronts.
a) A declining number of young people. The graph below shows how steep this decline will be over the next decade. What it doesn’t show are the regional variations. The Office of National Statistics age cohort information indicates that the East and West Midlands face a drop of double the national average. Interestingly, this decline is mirrored across the EU as a whole.
b) The retirement of baby boomer academics. The next decade will also see large numbers of the academic workforce retire not just in the UK but all over the western world. In 2007/8 UUK estimated that 21% of UK academics were aged over 55.
2. Increasing international competition for academics and students
At the moment the UK HE sector is widely regarded as being the second best in the world. We currently have 17 universities in the top 100 league table (Shanghai and FT). Both the BRIC countries and sovereign wealth fund countries (Norway, UAE etc), however, are investing heavily in their respective HE infrastructures. Because of this investment, UK universities are likely to find themselves facing increasing competition for students and staff both domestically and internationally. A key concern may be avoiding the situation facing South African Higher Education, where they are able to train but not retain their academic staff.
3. Increasing domestic competition from private universities
Further competition is likely to arrive in the form of an expanded private sector in UK HE. The UK has traditionally had the smallest private HE sector of the OECD countries. The recent granting of university college status to BPP and the changes to funding proposed in the Browne review will open up the UK domestic marketplace to major international providers such as the University of Phoenix and Laureate who have over a million students enrolled between them.
4. Disaggregated degrees
Due to demographic changes and funding changes to part time study, the next decade is likely to see further disaggregation of the traditional model of undergraduate study (three years, full time, face to face). Many UK universities will instead provide flexible learning frameworks in which students compile degree credits over longer (or shorter) periods through combinations of:
- Continuing professional development
- Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL)
- Work based learning (WBL)
- Informal learning
Such flexible learning frameworks will require new processes, systems and approaches to ensure the quality of the student experience. Implementing these successfully will be difficult as they represent a moving target not only for individual students but also for institutions and the sector as whole. Genuine granularity of learning would provide a larger marketplace for those institutions who are best positioned to share systems, processes, information and even students. This same approach could also alleviate the problems associated by baby boomer retirement by matching the opportunities for flexible teaching with the needs of flexible learning.
How can JISC help?
Whilst we can’t do much about demographic changes or increased levels of competition, we can help institutions to develop the flexible systems and processes necessary to adapt to these changes. As can be seen from the links above, we have already funded work in many of these areas and are well positioned to provide advice and guidance to institutions looking to become more agile. As a body serving the whole sector, however, we are able to make the case that sometimes competition is not enough on its own. Tim Marshall suggested that one of the keys for success in the new landscape would be:
“A renewed spirit of innovation and collaboration.”
Innovation and collaboration are both part of the cultural DNA of universities. Collaborative innovation through the pooling of risk is central to JISC’s mission. Institutions which deal most effectively with the factors above are likely to be those who co-operate most efficiently. At JISC we aim to initiate and facilitate the dialogue that underpins collaboration for all UK institutions, private and public, to promote the collaborative advantage of the sector as a whole.