What does the future of higher education look like?

The start of a new decade, paired with a pandemic, has many speculating what the future of higher education (HE) will look like.

No one today has visibility or confidence in predictions made for the next five years. However, it’s clear institutions will be left behind if they don't embrace change.

the future of higher education is closer than you think

Many universities are taking this opportunity to innovate and rethink their strategies. So, what can we expect on the horizon for HE?

Blended learning opportunities

Many institutions have been turned completely on their heads. The majority of the sector has needed to take an approach to education that combines online educational materials and traditional place-based classroom methods. Virtual learning has quickly become the norm.

Universities are modernising their business models with blended learning beginning to look like the long-term plan. The right people must drive a new digital culture.

In short, the current state of online learning is just a small step towards a future of integrated online and in-person learning opportunities. It’s a chance for universities to revisit their current procedures and processes and create some that more accurately reflect the requirements of higher education today.

Those that view COVID-19 as a temporary hiccup and revert to traditional ways when it’s over may struggle to survive. They could face financial pressures as enrolment rates drop. HE institutions might not have all the answers right now, but there are steps to take to make sure you’re prepared for whatever challenges may come your way.

Increased focus on the student experience

With increased competition and enrolment uncertainties in the future, the focus will need to be on student experience. For example, students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning or other identities often choose to study at a university which they perceive to offer a safe space

Prioritising a student-centric approach is what your institution needs to stay relevant in the future of HE. 

New ways of working will bring uncertainty for many students and it’s now more important than ever to understand student wellbeing. Institutions will never be the same after being enlightened by the mass of disadvantaged students.

Data analytics from intelligent tech provides insight into student behaviour and how they want to engage with the university. More centralised, data-driven support systems will magnify issues that negatively affect student wellbeing. 

Being able to make predictive judgements on students and what support they require greatly benefits the future of higher education. It gives you the insights you need to identify problems before they escalate and establish yourself as an HE institution that’s fit for whatever the next five or 10 years have in store. 

More accessibility across the institution 

For almost all universities, one of the biggest priorities moving into a new digital era is making it inclusive and accessible for everyone. Institutions are already working to lessen the impact of closures on inequality gaps among students. This enables them to engage the disadvantaged better.

In lockdown, learning and operations were 100% remote. And while some people missed the face-to-face interaction, many students with varying abilities were grateful for the chance to learn from home without physically attending a lecture.

We also need to recognise the need to adapt to the ever-changing requirements of students and their learning environment. Make the welfare of varyingly abled students, visually impaired students, care-leavers and disadvantaged students the focus of your attention. An inclusive campus must consider all these students’ needs - everybody benefits from a more accessible learning experience.

As universities look to adopt a blended approach to learning with many students still opting to stay home, it’s important to make it inclusive for people of all abilities in any circumstance - using technology as an enabler. It’s clear more manual processes will be liberated online. 

The Office for Students (OfS) is taking a radical and ambitious approach to ensure social mobility, equality and diversity is supported through HE. They’re aiming to achieve significant reductions in the gaps in access and attainment for underrepresented students. 

They expect providers will continue to improve alongside them, taking a risk-based approach to regulation. Their plan will stretch over the next five years and allow providers to be more strategic, yet supportive, to make the necessary progress in the sector.

With somebody as powerful as OfS pioneering this transformation, having hope for a positive future of education is easy. The data it will provide enables greater comparability, clearer guidance and, therefore, accountability for every institution. It also helps institutions see the tangible impact of their investment into quality academic, student engagement and accessibility. 

Technology leveraged indefinitely 

To improve the quality of student services in HE, technology needs to be a huge consideration. Paired with an accessible, easy-to-use platform, preventative strategies are vital to maintaining healthy and happy students. Without technology in place to capture this data, you’re missing out on essential improvements which will ensure you remain relevant in the years to come. 

The 2019 Digital Experience Insights Survey shared impressive details of teaching staff and the technologies and digital infrastructure they use. It showed a substantial number of teaching staff would like to use technology more and want to achieve a better quality digital environment.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected higher education and learning in unimaginable ways. As universities are independent entities and don’t have to follow specific government rules that would affect primary or secondary schools, you can make your own roadmaps to follow.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected higher education and learning in unimaginable ways. These trends are opening the way for new approaches in HE. Together, we can be better prepared for it.

Drive more efficient processes for the future of higher education 

In the public sector, change is already an uphill battle. But HE institutions may have no choice with how the future is shaping up. Reach out to Culture Shift and start your journey to change today.

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