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A recent report by the British Council identifies and analyses ten critical trends impacting how global higher education will be imagined, delivered and received in the coming years. The publication, entitled 10 trends - Transformative changes in higher education, seeks to shed light on some of the complex forces shaping the future of internationalisation in higher education, from major demographic shifts, national strategies, changes in labour market and the role of language, to name just few.
The ten trends are, as follows:
1. Shifting global demographics
The report finds that increasing ageing populations in many regions, paired with falling fertility rates (often due to widened access of women to education) reinforce a global decline of the youth population (aged 15-24). Demand for higher education, firmly coupled with the number of university-aged students, is thus bound to change globally. The authors argue that Africa is the one region that will counter the trend, with a youth population that promises growth for decades to come and estimated to surpass that of Asia by 2078. These demographic trends are, it is argued, strong evidence for high value in further engaging African students.
2. Expansion of education for all
There have been significant advances in school enrolment, nearing the achievement of UNESCO’s universal access goal. The global number of school drop-out in primary-aged children fell from about 100 million to 57 million between 2000 and 2015, with Sub-Saharan Africa making good progress. Large challenges remain, however, the authors stress, in completion rates, in gender parity and across socio-economic classes. The transition of the resulting number of students now in the qualified position to pursue continuing and tertiary education, is particularly addressed by the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) – that seeks to, beyond secondary education, establish equal access to quality higher education and lifelong learning.
3. National internationalisation strategies
A growing trend observed is for governments to integrate the internationalisation of the education sector into larger national strategies. A unifying aspect worldwide is the establishment of recruitment targets, to grow a country’s global market share of internationally-mobile students. International education strategies have become linked, the report finds, to trade and economic development, including programmes to promote skilled migration, shrink labour market gaps, establish national branding, industry cooperation, and post-study work options.
4. Distribution of national education funding
National expenditures on education are in competition with other public sectors, are highly-politicised and often under-prioritised, particularly tertiary and international education. Shifts in education funding will increasingly impact, the authors forecast, on international student mobility, for example, via declining investments in governmental-scholarships and an increased inward focus on investing in quality of local education systems.
5. Multi-sector cooperation
Corporate investments, including scholarships, are increasingly made to fund education in line with human capital needs. Cooperative ventures and partnerships are gaining in influence, the report underlines, and aim to tackle upskilling needs, produce graduates equipped with work based competences, promote talent attraction and reach alignment between employer views and those of education providers on the purpose and content of education.
Significant global shifts towards digital learning are taking place, yet the education sector’s transition is lacking behind and only digitalised at 2%. Global demand and investments in education technology are rising starkly, with Asia and the US making steady progress in contrast to Europe that lacks investments in ICT driven education. The influence of new education technology is viewed through two lenses – the impact of progress itself in online learning, and its impact on pedagogy, learning and administration. The higher education sector, challenged by the diversity of technologies available, is allocated the critical role, the authors believe, of driving the transition from traditional to innovative practices, preparing graduates for changing labour environments.
7. Demand for specific skills
Certain skills will rise in demand and others disappear completely from the human workforce, through such forces as automation. Higher education needs to transform the design of its programmes to equip students with skills aligned to demands of a changing workplace. Although the authors find that no definitive answer can be sustained, as to what skills should be prioritised, tangible competences in niche markets, as well as creative skills and emotional intelligence to balance mechanised processes are in debate for high value.
8. Brand and value
The report questions how elite institutions and their well-known branding will affect students’ choice in the future. Increasing importance is given to the value and return on investment an oversees study venture yields, including career prospects and study experience. Employers are indicated to place less importance on the reputational brands of institutions as a proxy for skills, and increase weight given to aspects as non-degree credentials, opening up positions to a diverse pool of candidates.
9. The impact of English
Global demand for learning opportunities in English will remain, the authors anticipate, supported by growth of English-taught degrees in countries that are non-native English speaking. English language instruction plays a key pull factor in encouraging mobility, and is a pathway for prospective future mobility. The role of English language in international mobility trends will remain important, yet unclear – considering aspects as digitalisation trends, including increased demand for online based learning, as well as the academic and staff capacity to cope with practical and pedagogical demands of instructing in a language that is not native.
10. Focus on the student experience
High quality student experience will remain an important trend to accommodate, both concerning the recruitment and the retention of international students. Ensuring that international students do experience outstanding welcoming cultures, career and accommodation services and support structures that are at parity with those benefitting their domestic peers, will be key. A key challenge for students studying abroad is the cost of tuition, where host institutions that seek to increase student retention will need to offer support for financial aid and cost transparency measures.
If considered carefully, the above trends can support the education sector and its stakeholders in developing more informed internationalisation strategies, management plans, and institutional practices.
British Council: 10 trends - Transformative changes in higher education (Full report)