An avalanche is coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead

This report argues that the next 50 years could see a golden age for higher education, but only if all the players in the system, from students to governments, seize the initiative and act ambitiously. If not, an avalanche of change will sweep the system away. Deep, radical and urgent transformation is required in higher education. The biggest risk is that as a result of complacency, caution or anxiety the pace of change is too slow and the nature of change is too incremental. The models of higher education that marched triumphantly across the globe in the second half of the 20th century are broken.

This report challenges every player in the system to act boldly. Citizens need to seize the opportunity to learn and re-learn throughout their lives. They need to be ready to take personal responsibility both for themselves and the world around them. Every citizen is a potential student and a potential creator of employment.

University leaders need to take control of their own destiny and seize the opportunities open to them through technology – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for example – to provide broader, deeper and more exciting education. Leaders will need to have a keen eye toward creating value for their students. Each university needs to be clear which niches or market segments it wants to serve and how. The traditional multipurpose university with a combination of a range of degrees and a modestly effective research programme has had its day.

Governments will need to rethink their regulatory regimes which were designed for a new era when university systems were national rather than global. In the new era, governments need to face up to big questions – how can they fund and support part-time students? Should a student who takes courses from a range of providers, including MOOCs, receive funding on the same basis as any other student? How can government incentivise the connection between universities, cities and innovation? In an era of globalisation how do governments ensure that universities in their country continue to thrive? How can meritocracy be ensured?

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