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The future size and shape of the higher education

July 11th, 2008 · 1 Comment · web 2.0

The future size and shape of the higher education sector in the UK: threats and opportunities is a report just released by Universities UK that assesses the impact of projected demographic changes for universities, as described in their press release.

The demographic changes forecast say that the majority age group – 18 to 20 – UK universities recruit from will diminish sharply over the next 10 years and, according to one of the 3 scenarios offered, a smaller number of HE institutions will survive to enjoy a renewed growth of this age group from 2019 to 2027. Increased competition for students may lead to a privatised cherry-picking sector emerging and increased involvement of corporate sector initiatives. Competition is likely to focus on over-seas and non-traditional work-based students. There is much to ponder on in the report and hopefully our top bananas and grandes fromages are on la case. The general position is a distinction between two possible impacts of technology in teaching and learning. The revolutionary potential is for the growth of global, online independent study with little or variable institutional affiliation. The evolutionary trajectory would lead to the increased use of information and communications technology (ICT) in delivery and learning management but without threatening institutional patterns. The report offers 3 possible scenarios and I have just picked out the implications and possible role for e-learning.

The first scenario, ‘slow adaptation to change’ states that “There is only modest investment in e-learning so that it remains a relatively small part of the total learning experience for most students”.

The second scenario, ‘market driven and competitive; is where “non-traditional providers identify market opportunities and essentially cherry pick in those areas with low entry costs, sometimes in partnership with established HEIs”. Here there may be “more widespread investment in e-learning particularly by larger institutions in partnership with private sector organisations with a much increased requirement on staff to provide academic support for students on a flexible basis”.

The third scenario, ’employer-driven flexible learning’ is characterised by “the coming together of a serious squeeze on funding for higher education with increased regulation of the purposes of the public funding element; the full development of technologically based learning through significant public and private investment; and the triumph of employer-led demand for part qualifications”. In this scenario “HE institutions develop partnerships with major commercial players to become leaders in the technologically-based learning field”.

With its considerable investment in the new VLE and a commitment to blended learning that fits very well with markets for part-time, flexible, work-based and non-traditional students, several leading UK universites seems to be positioning themselves for the second and third scenarios. If considering developing partnerships with the corporate sector we will need to look carefully at the staff development and training strategies they are already developing, often well in advance of anything that is going on in the UK HE sector, and what technology platforms and applications they are using. It is unlikely they will be the standard fair of VLEs and MLEs favoured currently by Universities. Interoperability and universal standards will be key and the ability to integrate different systems seamlessly. Many current and developing web 2.0 technologies are well ahead of what is offered by most conventional and proprietary VLE and MLE offerings.


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