This vision for the future of HE has been created for the learning and teaching reimagined initiative. It's not what we think the future of higher education will - or even should - look like, but just one possible scenario to inspire (possibly scare) and provoke discussion.
This content represents an imagined scenario and is set in the future
Welcome to a 2030 south Wales community...
As globally-focused universities across the UK were struggling to cope with declining numbers of international students in the wake of the 2020 pandemic, small towns across the country were reimagining the system.
A university of the community
Ahead of the 2021/22 academic year, six towns across south Wales were the first to realise the idea we now, in 2030, recognise as the hyperlocal university. It was an idea welcomed by those communities.
The rising cost of housing and travel combined with a sharp focus on environmental responsibility put the traditional route to higher education out of reach. Young and adult learners applied in equal number in that first year as their barriers to learning were removed.
In the run up to their first academic year, each one ran localised marketing campaigns targeting only households in their own postcode areas – none more than 25,000 residents. The 2021/22 prospectus of hyperlocal universities looked very different from others in the HE market at the time.
There were no halls of residences to speak of, no university buildings, no students’ union bar. Its focus was local learning; groups of students coming together to learn. Even though the teaching was delivered remotely, the learning was done together.
It was a promise that’s still met today. Core aspects of courses are delivered to larger groups, while more specialised teaching is delivered to smaller cohorts or in some cases individually.
Teaching is primarily delivered online with high-quality video to groups of students from subject experts from across the country and in some cases the world.
Content is almost exclusively accessed digitally but some programmes now also use 3D objects printed at students’ homes or in the local university centre. When students do come together physically, the universities typically hire and work within existing community spaces.
As these universities have evolved, so too has the diversity of the programmes they offer. Specialist and practical subjects can now be partly delivered at regional hubs that are accessible to students from any of the surrounding universities – large or small – as needed. This saves students of the hyperlocal universities having to travel regularly or commute to a campus every day.
While it became apparent early on that much of student support could be delivered remotely, local specialist support providers working for multiple universities could easily work with students in their catchment area. Skilled facilitators ensure that students get the appropriate help, and meet with them in person, as and when required.
Preserving “the student experience”
One concern of the some of the first hyperlocal applicants was missing out on the on-campus “student experience”. However, almost immediately in the same way as happens on physical campuses, students began to create their own social groups and societies on universities-owned and external social networks. Some of these only meet online but many have regular get-togethers locally.