Looking forward – INTO’s chairman Andrew Colin offers his vision of the future of global higher education

Group of studentsIt’s a confusing world. The forces shaping global higher education demand and supply seem to be working in opposite directions. On the one hand student demand for higher education is at an all-time high. The demand for graduate-level skills across the world is also growing at an exponential rate.

On the other, there is talk of unsustainable higher education systems in the United States – on the verge of bankruptcy and spending well beyond their means, and in China reports emerge of a growing army of unemployed graduates.

Across the developed world, the funding burden is shifting from the public purse to the student. In a report produced by Bain and Company, it argued that without an alternative approach some  public universities in the United States may go to the wall. The trends appear to be global in nature. Here in the UK, government policy is encouraging new entrants; BPP of course being the most notable example. The changing funding model – with the introduction of core and margin – has brought some dimension of consumerism and elevated further the power of the student and threatening the sustainability of large parts of the sector (“the squeezed middle”).

Online learning: a disruption in the market

Alongside this change, market disruption in the form of online learning has become a hot topic. New acronyms have entered the tertiary vernacular including MOOCs or Massively Open Online Courses, such as EdX developed by Harvard and MIT, and Stanford spin-offs like Coursera and the Khan Academy have the potential to transform access. Some have even argued that this will mark a turning point in the expansion of trans-national education, with students unwilling to pay over the odds for qualifications they can get for nothing on Youtube. But does this spell the end of higher education as we know it?

Well no. Amongst this uncertainty, we do know that demand for tertiary education, however or wherever it is delivered is growing at phenomenal rate. In 2007, UNESCO estimated 163 million students in tertiary education, forecast to grow to 263 million by 2025.  In 2011, Stamenka Uvalić Trumbić, former head of the UNESCO higher education section said: “accommodating the additional 105 million students would require more than four major universities to open every week for the next 15 years.”

Many universities are already adapting to these changes, seeking new ways of funding and new ways of reaching students. In 2010, for the first time the number of students studying for UK qualifications abroad exceeded those coming to the UK. The global reputation of UK higher education is almost without parallel.

Evolving the tertiary sector

We live in a time when young people throughout the world know that their university education enables them to understand and contribute to the world in which they are living. Students and employers are demanding more from tertiary education. Students are looking for secure experiences which will lead to long term returns, and employers want graduates whose qualifications they can trust, and who are comfortable working in a global environment.

In order to compete effectively and retain relevance, major academic institutions must evolve. In the midst this climactic change our great universities and their governing bodies must evolve and embrace the resources available through the private sector. Central to academic purpose in the 21st century will be significantly improved access to higher education, and a more co-ordinated engagement with issues of practical, global significance: crumbling economies; climate change; security; pandemic disease.

As David Willets, the Universities Minister identified in a speech at Stanford University earlier this year, UK higher education is a great export success industry.  Demand for high quality provision is strong across the developed and developing world.  But, he argued, the sector is not appropriately resourced to take advantage of emerging opportunities in areas such as transnational education.

We agree. In February of this year, we produced a manifesto. A call to action to bring public and private together, calling on government to support new ways of engagement. From our perspective the challenge is not one of demand – it is of finding a way to ensure that the supply of high quality tertiary education is enabled through mechanisms which protect and enhance all that is great about our sector.

The INTO difference

We believe the INTO model – which has enjoyed considerable success in the UK, the United States and China offers one partnership structure which can bring the private sector together with public and not-for-profit higher education in a secure, carefully designed governance model to address major global capacity issues in higher education.

While we may be best known for joint-ventures with major universities to redefine pathway programmes, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The model has given institutions around the world a mechanism to secure their internationalisation strategies.

In the United States the model has provided major public universities like Oregon State and the University of South Florida an opportunity to redefine their curriculum in a way which attracts more many more international students and yet enhances academic standards.

In the UK, our partnership with St George’s, University of London is providing full medical degrees under a joint governance model where once again complete academic control rests with the institution.

The opportunities it presents in terms of transnationally delivered education are profound. We imagine a future where students can learn from great international universities in easily accessible centres throughout the world. Centres where academic standards are guaranteed and owned by academic institutions, but which have the financial security and management capacity to deliver an outstanding student experience.

There is much to celebrate across the higher education landscape, and a willingness to adapt to new environments in order to protect that which institutions hold dear. We just need to think a little differently about how to achieve this.

As Ella Fitzgerald once put it.  It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Andrew Colin

Author: Andrew Colin

Andrew is INTO's Chairman.

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