3 min read • viewpoint

The future of higher education

Transforming the students of tomorrow

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Ben Thuriaux-Aleman

United KingdomPartner


Executive summary

Global higher education (HE) is a $3 trillion-per-year market that is expected to grow at 9% annually over the next five years.1 This market is transforming rapidly, with nine major trends changing the educational landscape and posing challenges for universities that wish to remain competitive:

  1. The nature of jobs is changing, and students need to be able to update their skills throughout their careers. Students prioritize employability when selecting universities, but many future jobs are not yet defined. To ensure that students can succeed in the future, universities must equip them to be lifelong learners who can acquire new skills and give them broad, cross-disciplinary problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial mindsets.
  2. Demand for continuous education and corporate training is growing. Universities without strong brands and presence in this area should build strength in a targeted, step-by-step manner. Initially they should offer courses only in disciplines they are best known for, and ideally in segments that are comparatively uncrowded. Alumni and those who are already familiar with the university’s brand should be initial priority targets. Company sponsors can also be leveraged to support branding efforts.
  3. HE faces serious capacity issues to deal with the global increase in student numbers. For example, one university is being built per week in China to support the growth in HE demand. To cope with this rapidly growing demand and related capacity issues universities need to fully utilize and optimize their existing infrastructures, and should consider expansions through international branches via local partnerships.
  4. Competition to attract the best students is increasing. Universities will need to compete to attract the best students on a regional and global scale. Universities should make use of alumni networks, international school visits and diversification through partnering to strengthen their brands and optimize resource allocation, as well as leverage positions of relative strength.
  5. Public funding is decreasing as a share of revenue. To remain financially sustainable, universities must effectively offer services to industry, including consultancy and delivery of co-developed curricula. They should also consider leveraging innovative financing models such as public-private partnerships – and private equity investments. To be effective, this needs a strong business mindset, well-structured processes and a dedicated IP licensing office.
  6. Research funding is increasingly skewed towards the top universities. To stay competitive and maximize overall performance, universities should allow some staff to focus on either research or teaching, depending on their particular strengths.
  7. Digitalized learning environments are becoming the norm. To maximize tech-related efficiency gains universities must understand innovation in education and have strategies to best respond to the latest digital trends with potential roles in education, such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI). New infrastructure and systems should be set up through partnerships with reputable providers to ensure data security and sustainability.
  8. Blended learning is becoming the main way of learning. Leading universities are adopting new online-offline blended teaching models, such as the “flipped classroom” and massive open online courses (MOOCs). These support student-centricity, provide for a personalized and adaptive learning experience and enhance the cost-effectiveness of large programs.
  9. Universities are collaborating more but increasingly selective. New collaborations are best built bottom-up through staff collaboration, then gradually deepened by formal support. Universities should seek out “better-ranked” partners, working in areas of complementary strength.

Overall, although robots will not replace lecturers and conventional lecture theaters will still exist, the higher education environment will change significantly over the next 15 years, as summarized in Figure 1. All universities wishing to remain competitive will need to manage this change effectively.

Figure 1: The nine educational megatrends and implications for universities

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