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    8 trends shaping the future of education

    This blog post highlights eight key drivers of change relating to the the future of higher education and student mobility, from political factors such as stricter immigration policies and public funding cuts to the rise of automation and the need for flexible modules.
    Last updated:
    December 1, 2023

    What will the future of education look like? It’s the question on many an education professional’s lips, and in an uncertain political and economic climate such as ours, it isn’t always an easy one to answer. Of course, technology will play a large role in shaping the future of higher ed, as will socio-economic and political factors.

    Rahul Choudaha and Edwin van Rest shine the spotlight on this subject in their 2018 Studyportals report Envisioning Pathways to 2030: Megatrends Shaping the Future of Higher Education. The report explores various megatrends in higher education from a global perspective and provides us with a rich source of statistical data to draw on.

    It takes a look at some of the issues higher education institutions will face in the next couple of decades, including the impact budget cuts are going to have, how the growing middle class will encourage student mobility and, naturally, the role of rapid technological change in fuelling flexibility and affordability.

    The report is a useful high level resource for professionals who want to reflect and start thinking about new approaches to higher education recruitment and teaching in the lead up to 2030.

    Let’s take a look at some of the report's main points and highlights.

    Setting the scene

    Globally, higher education enrolment has been on an upwards trajectory for the past few years, a trend that has been largely driven by middle-class income countries. High-income countries, on the other hand, have experienced a decline or plateau in enrolments lately.

    Similarly, the number of internationally mobile students has been gradually growing, although this cohort still forms a small percentage of total enrolment. Most of these students are studying in high income countries, they likely to come from Asia and choose to study career-centric areas like STEM, business and law.

    “Students from Asia form the largest group of international students enroled in OECD tertiary education programmes at all levels (1.56 million in 2015).”

    The growth of English-taught programmes in Europe, ambitious world class universities in emerging markets and the development of transnational education models all look set to have a significant impact on the future of global student mobility.

    “English-taught Bachelors (ETBs) constitute 27% of the total number of English-taught programmes offered at Masters and Bachelor's level in Europe."

    8 higher education 'megatrends'

    In the report, Studyportals identify eight key drivers of change relating to the future of higher education and student mobility, from political factors such as stricter immigration policies and public funding cuts to the rise of automation and the need for flexible modules.

    1. An aging world

    As people continue to live longer, universities will have to discover new ways to educate the aging population. ‘Lifelong learning’ will become more important than ever as employees attempt to reskill and upskill themselves to keep up with the pace of technological change.

    2. Labour market shifts

    The rise of automation will have a significant impact on the global workforce; as a result, universities will have to adapt to provide learning opportunities for older students as well as skills training for younger ones.

    3. Skills mismatch

    As a result of the previous megatrend, a gap will emerge between what employers need and what education provides, prompting institutions to reassess programme content and delivery methods.

    4. Rapid urbanisation

    There is likely to be a seismic shift towards cities by people looking for jobs and more diverse career opportunities. This will drive the need for universities to offer more flexible and accessible studying options.

    5. Stricter immigration policies

    Tighter immigration policies, particularly in high income countries, could pose a threat to student mobility and migration avenues.

    6. Economic shifts

    The report predicts that there will be a greater dependence on emerging markets for economic growth between now and 2030. These countries will influence the demand for expanding access to higher education.

    7. Capacity imbalance

    “Imbalance in demand for higher education among youth population in emerging economies and large supply of institutions in high-income economies will provide opportunities for engaging through international recruitment and transactional education."

    8. Budget pressures

    As higher education faces a decline in public funding, expectations around self-funding through enrolment growth and academic innovation will increase.

    “By 2030, [we’ll have witnessed] an estimated increase of nearly 120 million students in higher education and 2.3 million internationally mobile students.”

    In light of these eight emerging megatrends, universities will have to adapt by curating and facilitating opportunities for lifelong learning; they will also need to create new programme models to fulfil the need for flexibility and accessibility.

    The increasingly competitive nature of higher education means institutions will have to come up with different ways to recruit the best students. We don’t know exactly what this will look like of course but we expect personalisation and segmentation to play an even larger role than it already does in enhancing student recruitment.

    Universities will also have to build further links and nurture long-term relationships with industry. In our interview with Dr Gary Wood, he spoke about what he thinks will be the disruptive forces in education in future years. He emphasised the importance of apprenticeships and industry training:

    “I think there will be an increasing focus on supporting students to move out into a professional environment and thinking about different models of doing that. In engineering, we’ve already started to see degree apprenticeships and there are different approaches to higher education being explored across the UK.”

    Dr. Gary Wood, University Teaching Fellow in Professional Skills & Head of Sheffield Engineering Leadership Academy

    Read the full report to get access to the full range of statistics, visual representations and insights from industry experts.

    To stay relevant in a changing landscape, the technology universities use to recruit students must be agile. FULL FABRIC’s Origin solution can help - request a demo today.


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    Kate Tattersfield

    Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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