Will university still be relevant in 2030?
A thriving society needs higher education. Its benefits are felt in countless ways. It is an enabler of social mobility, it generates knowledge and wealth and universities have been behind the vast majority of major scientific discoveries in modern times.
A university education also has a lasting effect on individuals and their communities. It offers an important opportunity for wealth generation and, around the world, students stand to have a better life. In fact, the poorer the nation, the greater the advantage that a degree can generate.
But higher education, like every other sector, is experiencing extraordinary change as we enter a period of technological development dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
So what will universities look like in 2030 and will they still be relevant?
The influence of technology
Technology is already bringing profound change to higher education.
Researchers are able to share the work they are doing and the discoveries they are making more quickly and more effectively. Collaboration on projects has never been easier and this is a trend which will continue.
Online education platforms allow universities to reach learners around the world. Massive online open courses, or MOOCs, are expanding rapidly to offer educational opportunities to many millions.
Big data will also play an important part in the evolution of university education. As we better understand how, when and where people are able to learn in the most productive ways, the framework of education will respond to those insights.
The importance of proximity
It is tempting to see the future of education as almost exclusively online but universities also derive their effectiveness through proximity. For many areas of study residential education, where students live and learn in the same place, is vital. No one is suggesting the next generation of doctors should be taught online.
It is more than educational necessity, though. Universities have for centuries brought inquiring minds together and shared experiences to cement a hunger for lifelong learning.
Breaking down walls
Many universities currently operate much as they did two centuries ago. Teaching and research is organised into distinct disciplines. Although collaboration does occur it is the exception, rather than the norm.
This is likely to change as the lines between different fields a start to blur. This, in turn, will affect the structure of many university courses as interdisciplinary studies are made easier.
The rising cost
A major concern is the cost of university education. In many countries it is already rising above inflation levels and is likely to continue doing so.
One estimate of the cost of college in the United States in 2030 puts the average price for an elite private university at more than $130,000 a year. A state university averages over $70,000 a year.
Governments and universities need to constantly asses their funding models to ensure university is accessible to all and does not become the preserve of the wealthy.
The international market
Already, competition for students is reaching new levels of intensity. With governments facing tight budgetary environments, universities will have to continue to look at how they attract international students.
Global mobility will grow for students, academics, and university brands. This will not only intensify competition, but also create opportunities for much deeper global partnerships and broader access to student and academic talent.
To enhance the service they offer, universities will need to build significantly deeper relationships with industry to differentiate teaching and learning programs, support the funding and application of research, and reinforce the role of universities as drivers of innovation and growth.
There is no doubt universities are set to go through great change. Some have called this period the biggest challenge in the 800 year history of the university. Some will thrive, some may fail. But the need for dynamic, vibrant universities will be as strong in 2030 as it is today.
This will be a key topic at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2016, taking place in Dubai on 12th and 13th March 2016. For more take a look at the programme. Follow us on Twitter @GESForum and on Facebook.