European Higher Education Technology Climate Report: The Present and Future

Higher Education has a double mandate to use technology effectively to enhance the learning and teaching process, and to prepare students for the workplace and society.

The higher education sector is growing rapidly all over the world with the number of universities and other new forms of higher education institutions increasing to meet this growing demand. Competition for the best students both locally and internationally is intense. Competition is coming from new flexible forms of education with distance options and more flexible courses. Creative new services are supporting students unable to commit to a full-time campus experience for reasons of geography or due to life situations. Many institutions are achieving additional growth and revenue through expanded virtual and distance offerings and/or supporting student recruitment and growth by differentiating through technology and learning space design for the optimum flexible learning experience.

All higher education institutions are competing for the best students and position in the international rankings. Institutions are focused on protecting and growing revenues while preparing students for 21st Century. Many of the best students are seeking international education connections and opportunities, and there is a major trend towards business partnerships, increased engagement with employers, block releases and degree-apprenticeships which are all driving significant changes in many institutions.

Impact of technology and the 21st Century economy

There are many macro trends influencing the direction of higher education for the second half of the 21st Century including the globalised economy; climate change; shifting populations; ongoing political upheavals; and the changes expected from the 4th industrial revolution. We are less than half-way through the process of change and transformation in higher education. Institutions have a double mandate to use technology effectively to enhance the learning and teaching process, and to prepare students for the workplace and society.

In addition to these macro trends, the more proximate environmental trends outlined in Figure 1 are influencing strategy and design. Many institutions are adopting a campus master plan approach, creating a strong coherent campus and digital plan and strategy across all schools and departments in the university.

Figure 1: Environmental trends influencing a ‘campus master plan’ strategy and design

Technology is changing the face of society, the workplace and education, yet few higher education institutions are offering the high quality digitally supported course experiences and related services to full-time campus-based, part-time or distance students that are possible. Innovation in pedagogy, learning spaces and in the application of technology is essential to provide high quality offerings, flexibility for different needs, and a more dynamic education system.

Innovation, Competition and Differentiation

New technologies are constantly pushing boundaries enabling active and instrumented learning spaces, new maker spaces, blended synchronous learning, augmented and virtual reality environments, design labs and fabrication facilities. These are bringing new thrilling and flexible dimensions to the learning and exploration process, yet supported innovation in these advanced approaches is not yet entering the main-stream process. In the medium-term these approaches will create new opportunities and advances but lack of support for innovation will put institutions at risk of competition from more innovative and agile institutions or learning services. Institutions need to create a strong university platform on which faculties can innovate and develop a stronger set of services.

Future proofing the campus – meeting the needs of a changing world

A progressive and future-proof campus framework designed for 21st Century students, academics and administrators helps define and design active learning spaces and a high quality on-campus experience, together with a consistent high-quality digital environment, and a virtual campus experience which carries the strong institutional identity of a leading university across campus, campus and to distance learners globally.

All of these aspects have an important relationship with the technology strategy of the institution, the quality of technology and learning spaces offered, and the quality of digital, online and virtual experiences offered.  Cohesive and coherent learning models across all learning environments are key to the success of a hybrid learning model. The physical and virtual learning space design should be complementary.  In our research and analysis we developed seven categories of recommendations to help future-proof higher education institutions for the 21st Century (Figure 2).

7 Recommendations to future-proof higher education

Figure 2: Seven categories of recommendations to future-proof higher education

In the leading institutions interviewed and visited for this research, blended learning is the new normal. The recommendations apply equally to campus-based and virtual digital higher education. The most competitive institutions are offering students a rich mixture of campus based, digital and distance experiences.

Written by Dr Michelle Selinger and Peter Hamilton.

This article is based on a research study and literature review undertaken in late 2018 providing a European perspective on technology trends and directions for higher education. The work was sponsored by HP Inc. and can be found at www.edtech-ventures.com.

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