Higher education in 2020: three key forecasts from new report
Findings show that people (not technology) will drive change, revenue is the ultimate goal, and HE is globalising, but gradually
Posted by William Lawton, Wednesday 2 October 2013 07.27 EDT
“What will higher education look like in 2020?” Tackling this broad question was a departure from the usual data-led work of theObservatory on Borderless Higher Education where I am director. The short answer is that 2020 is only seven years away and, with a bit of luck, things should not get much worse.
The approach of our recent Horizon Scanning report for the InternationalUnit and Leadership Foundation for Higher Education was dictated partly by the current landscape of higher education and further shaped by judgement. Its frame of reference included transnational education (TNE), Moocs, and ongoing debates around the sustainability of recruitment and international mobility. Other contributing factors were funding, student trends, trade liberalisation and the role of international rankings.
The paper concludes with a note on disruptive political change – while intended to be relevant to planning and policy decisions, it is descriptive and analytical rather than prescriptive. Here are three key digests from its findings:
People, not technology, will drive educational change
The consensus on technological disruption says: existing models of higher education are broken; universities must embrace rapid change or have obsolescence visited upon them; technology drives this and nothing can stop it. Our report takes a less dramatic approach. Technology does not have a free hand in driving change.
Change is driven (and held back) by people, institutions and countries with real political and economic interests. The manner in which higher education institutions have reacted to Moocs already provides evidence of this. Academic staff tell management and politicians to slow down and think.
The shelving of a coercive online-education bill in California last month that would’ve required public universities to award credit to students who complete Moocs by outside providers is a good example. The impact of MOOCs on pedagogy and university business models will be profound, but will manifest as an evolutionary shift rather than an avalanche of change.
Academic provision and accreditation are unbundling
California’s online-education bill would have hastened the ‘unbundling’ of educational provision from accreditation, but such things are underway in the US already. Beyond the reach of elite universities, this process is set to spread and students will choose courses from different institutions and receive credit toward a degree or non-degree certificate.
A wider range of credentials will have status equal to university degrees for employers. Unbundling will see a rise of alternative provision pathways that may have relevance for a greater diversity of students in more parts of the world. There will also be an explosion of business model experimentation to integrate Moocs into degree courses. The goal for both Mooc platforms and universities is revenue – developing ways of awarding credit for a fee. The ‘open’ part of massive open online courses may survive but only alongside fee-paying, credit-bearing options.
Higher education will continue to globalise – but gradually
Demand for qualifications from the main higher education exporting nations will hold up, even as their shares of the global student market continue to decrease. That decrease will not be not a disaster; it is the unavoidable consequence of more exporters being in the game. Similarly, the fact that more Asian universities appear in the top 200 of the three main international rankings does not mean that UK universities are collapsing into a ‘pit of mediocrity’, as was reported in 2012. It means that Asian universities are getting better.
Growth in international student mobility will not keep pace with the growth in demand for higher education worldwide, for two reasons: the increase in domestic higher education capacity in some countries and the growth of TNE options in many countries, including online options. Provision through TNE may grow faster than through international mobility. And mobility to traditional exporting countries will be challenged by more intra-regional mobility, for example through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The ‘business end’ of international networks will see more small international partnerships, such as the Center for Urban Science and Progress in Brooklyn and larger ones such as the bilateral Monash-Warwick alliance, both launched in 2012. The latter, in particular, forms a precadent for a highly integrated partnership, of which we will only see more in the coming years.
The paper also examines the withdrawal of the state from funding higher education teaching in the developed world, and suggests that this will not be reversed as the global economy enters a recovery cycle up to 2020. ‘User pays’ is already the norm.