What is the future for HE?

A little while ago I went to a presentation by Martin Williams, Director of HE Strategy at the DIUS.

He spoke about the future of Universities at a time when the Government wants to continue to grow numbers in HE – to enable more potential students to benefit from HE.

So far as research is concerned, there is an emphasis on more quality of research – the current RAE exercise is the last of its kind and the future of research funding may be based on linking assessment of research to available metrics such as citations, in some disciplines.

It seems to me that whatever way research is funded some people will lose out. Researchers n the sciences for example may publish less than researches in the humanities because the latter are more comfortable with writing. Obscure mathematical theorems may have huge impact on their field but that field is very small with very few people who can even understand the research, compared with say, a study on internet use which can be more accessible to those outside the field.

Universities and colleges have to adjust to demographic change – start to focus on improving the skills of the current workforce. It’s a challenge for the education sector to support acquisition of high level skills by those already in the workplace – and it is a challenge for employers to support their staff in acquiring these skills.

If people are to be upskilled, acquiring new skills throughout their working lives, then there has to be much more of a culture of learning in the workplace and in the community – a perception that learning is part of work and does not stop when one leaves a place of education. There is likely to be a good deal of resistance to this: many people identify learning with a school experience they did not enjoy, and do not want to undertake any further learning.

So how can universities adapt to a student body that will NOT be the traditional 18 year old coming into a 3-year full-time degree? And how will they be funded?

In the FE sector, a lot more of the funding that used to go via the Learning and Skills Council is now going to be distributed through local authorities.

Some scary(?) statistics:

  • The average graduate today will have 7 different careers, 3 of which haven’t been invented yet. (A Scottish study he quoted which don’t have the reference for)
  • 70% of the 2020 workforce are already in the workplace…