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    Why universities should embrace lifelong learning

    In this article we highlight how some higher education institutions are closing the skills gap and making education more accessible through lifelong learning initiatives.
    Last updated:
    December 3, 2021

    In light of the fourth industrial revolution and with the pace of technological innovation moving as quickly as it is, the employees of today and tomorrow will be expected to develop existing skills and learning new ones throughout their career. 

    Photo by Chivalry Creative.

    Higher education institutions and employers must also work together to enable their students and employees to access education and skills training. Many of today’s students are preparing to enter roles in industries that aren’t fully established yet, so it’s crucial that learning doesn’t stop upon graduation. 

    Tech-orientated businesses are feeling the effects of the skills gap already. 

    According to an Indeed survey, 86 percent of tech hiring managers and recruiters said they find it challenging to hire and find tech talent, with 36 percent saying they find it “very challenging”. Recruiters are also looking to alternative, non-traditional skills and training providers to source the talent needed to allow industries to grow and innovate.

    “...qualified candidates from technical schools specializing in coding and software engineering, like Hack Reactor or General Assembly, are also receiving a greater level of attention…”

    - Indeed survey. 

    To remain relevant in today’s climate, universities need to keep their doors open and adapt to the changing needs of learners by enabling them to choose a pathway that is best suited to their needs. This could take the form of a full time degree, a flexible online programme, a series of short courses or a work placement-based solution. 

    Writing for the Mail & Guardian, Ylva Rodny-Gumede, professor in the department of journalism, film and television at the University of Johannesburg, says:

    “...the future of higher education depends on flexibility, adaptation and use of technology to provide an enhanced learning experience on and off campus, with an emphasis on high-tech but low-cost off-campus solutions and a low-tech but high-energy experience on campus.”

    Rodny-Gumede also explains that instead of the traditional trope of the lone professor in a lecture hall, high ed professionals should create teaching teams and collaborate with students, industry and local communities in the exchange of knowledge to facilitate lifelong learning opportunities that could also provide new revenue streams. 

    Governments across Europe are moving lifelong learning to the top of the agenda. 

    When opening the World Conference for Online Learning 2019 in November, which was hosted by Dublin City University, Minister for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, announced the government’s intention to position Ireland as a “global leader in education provision” by prioritising lifelong learning and making it “the norm to that we are adaptable to new technologies and sectors.”

    We want ideas and people to flow freely around our economy, strengthening and deepening Ireland as a technology hub. We have the ambition to make Ireland the tech capital of Europe, and that includes education and technology.”

    - Mary Mitchell O’Connor.

    Universities embracing lifelong learning


    Let’s take a look at a couple of higher education institutions that are closing the skills gap and making education more accessible through lifelong learning initiatives..

    Ulster University Business School (UUBS)


    The Northern Ireland Skills Gap Barometre, a report produced by the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre forecasts the creation of 85,000 new jobs in Northern Ireland by 2028. To prepare learners for the future of work and to address the current skills gap, Ulster University Business School has changed the way it delivers programmes.

    • UUBS collaborates with businesses and professional bodies to create a range of personalised, relevant learning experiences.
    • Its virtual learning environment features online resources and tutorials.
    • January as well as September intakes have been implemented. 
    • UUBS supports the Assured Skills Academies by developing flexible skills development programmes.
    • Higher Level Apprenticeships combine workplace training with an academic degree.
    • Other key partners include: Irish Times Training, Institute of Company Secretaries, the Institute of Directors, the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, the CBI, CIPD, ACCA, Chartered Accountants Ireland.


    University of Warwick


    You can find out about University of Warwick’s Centre for Lifelong Learning on its website. The renowned institution offers a variety of programmes to suit the needs of different learners, from PhDs to short-term courses and workshops for those in employment. 

    • University of Warwick offers flexible and accessible 2+2, gateway and and part-time degrees.
    • Three quarters of University of Warwick’s culturally diverse lifelong learning students come from the surrounding areas and its student community is comprised of learners from 27 different countries. 
    • “We emphasise interdisciplinary and collaboration across disciplinary and professional boundaries, both within the University and externally.”
    • You can read alumni testimonials on the university’s website.

    University of Copenhagen & Copenhagen Business School


    Adult learning is a big part of Danish culture, and the country’s investment in the development of new qualifications is one of the highest in Europe. In fact, one in three Danish adults aged 25 to 64 is currently studying in some way or another. 


    • Single Master and Bachelor level courses are available through the Open University and summer schools.
    • Customised courses in a number of fields are provided, each of which is arranged by the faculty.
    • A number of Masters programmes for working professionals are also available (including standalone modules).



    • Executive education programmes.
    • Single courses and the Vacant Place System.
    • Diploma, MBA and Masters programmes.


    Constant changes in the labour market mean that coming up with new and innovative ways to upskill workers including motivation and informal learning opportunities. We’d love to hear about the things your institution has implemented to achieve lifelong learning activities - however large or small. Connect with us on Twitter @fullfabric.

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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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