A new EY report, Are universities of the past still the future?, argues that universities in advanced economies are facing a number of existential issues in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Based on EY analysis about the future of the higher education sector and 29 interviews with university leaders from the US, UK, India, Singapore and Australia, the report finds that universities will quickly need to adapt to a new reality due to demographic shifts, geopolitical challenges, changing workplace demands and high student expectations for a quality digital experience.
If they’re not willing to rethink their purpose and how they deliver value, some of the challenges thrown up by the COVID-19 pandemic could rapidly develop into existential threats. It is time to start asking difficult questions, challenge the status quo and look at the opportunities the pandemic has created to rethink how and where higher education is delivered – and to whom.
According to the report, university leaders in Singapore noted that with a shortening half-cycle of knowledge and skills and the rapid turnover in market cycles, the workforce will need to continually upskill and reskill. Universities have a role to play while governments can support and encourage lifelong learning and skills-building. The report cites how the Singapore government has provided its citizens a learning wallet to be spent at the individual’s discretion on accredited courses, agnostic of the pathway or provider, through the SkillsFuture program.
Benjamin Chiang, EY Asean Government & Public Sector Leader says:
“Upskilling and reskilling ensure a continuity of workforce that is relevant and can contribute to the economy and society. By working closely with businesses, universities can tailor their undergraduate courses to better address employer needs and develop short-term or mini upskilling programs to fill current skills gaps. Upskilling programs should offer flexibility in both structure and course options, as participants in these programs are likely to be busy professionals who need to balance work and personal life demands while learning and working toward skills acquisition through coursework. At the same time, governments and employers must play their part in instilling a culture of lifelong learning.”
The report, published on the International Day of Education, recommends that universities take a “future-back” approach, looking ahead to 2030 to understand how five bold scenarios could require a radical transformation of their operating models if they are to remain competitive:
- What if the cost of learning is driven down to zero? The advent of widespread digital and distance learning is already radically reimagining the classroom as we know it. Universities must use digital learning experiences to augment what makes them unique and reinvent their learning delivery around that to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students and lifelong learners.
- What if learning journeys are entirely flexible and customizable? The power is shifting rapidly into the hands of the learner. Universities need to recognize this and provide the type of personalized, flexible learning options that students desire.
- What if higher education providers are accountable for results? Universities have lost their monopoly on accreditation, and non-degree, lifelong-learning credentials are becoming mainstream. Universities have to prepare for a world where location or brand reputation is less important to learners than the measurable quality and effectiveness of their teaching and learning outcomes in helping learners reach their individual career and life aspirations.
- What if commercialized research pays for itself? Research is the lifeblood of universities, from deciding rankings to attracting the best minds to producing value for society, but it is costly and is heavily subsidized by tuition fee revenues. Universities could shift to prioritize commercial, demand-driven research, collaborating more closely with industry and capital markets and then working with governments for better funding for non-commercial research of national or international value and significance.
- What if technology could solve the global supply and demand mismatch? Technology is helping those in developing countries to access higher education in new ways, allowing universities to expand their reach exponentially. Western universities looking for new markets have a huge opportunity to partner with in-country providers to roll out sought-after, high-quality education in these growing markets, using technology to do so at scale and a price point that is affordable locally.
Catherine Friday, EY Global Education Leader, says:
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how far universities have to go when it comes to finding their place in the future of education and laid bare their over-reliance on on-campus learning and international students in shrinking domestic undergraduate markets. There is no going back to the way things were and technology will continue to change the game across the higher education sector. On this International Day of Education, universities need to start thinking and planning now for how they’re going to address the need for reinvention and fit into the post-secondary and lifelong learning landscape of the future.”
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