What does 2016 have in store for higher education?

Our bloggers and social media followers gaze into their crystal balls and predict what the year in HE might look like

January 6, 2016

We asked some of our bloggers and our social media followers to tell us what they think might happen in the world of higher education this year.

Here’s a collection of some of the best. You can make your 2016 HE predictions in the comments below, or by using the #HEpredictions hashtag on Twitter.


Claire Taylor, pro vice-chancellor, St Mary’s University, London (and THE blogger):
During 2016, the potential for “Brexit” will bring universities together with business and industry in a vigorous, political and highly coordinated campaign to keep Britain in the EU. University leaders will present a “doomsday” scenario outlining that Brexit would have an immediate negative impact upon student and staff mobility, collaborative research networks and access to funding, as well as wider and far-reaching economic, cultural and social implications. The campaign will be heralded as a significant factor in securing a vote to remain in the EU and will unite vice-chancellors in a way that has never been seen before in relation to game-changing issues that affect our nation.


Dr Taylor wasn’t the only person predicting that 2016 will be the year of EU debate...



UK politics, Moocs and league tables also featured in your forecasts...


Alison James, associate dean learning and teaching, London College of Fashion (and blogger):
My prediction for 2016 is a philosophical Clash of the Titans over which metrics to adopt to judge teaching excellence. As the Green Paper stood back from defining exactly what excellence might be, debate will be – ahem – lively. Government will favour the “nail it down and measure it” approach but will need to recognise that some indicators of excellence will be hard to capture. Certain metrics will be challenged by the university community; just because you can measure something doesn’t mean this tells you what you most need to know.



Dean Hristov, doctoral researcher at Bournemouth University (via LinkedIn):
We live in times of global HE marketisation, an increasingly saturated and competitive HE marketplace and equally – with the rise of tuition fees – times characterised with high return-on-investment expectations from students. With this in mind, in 2016 there will be even more pressure for HE institutions to prepare future-ready graduates and demonstrate the outcomes of their interventions in filling the employability to employment gap. The emergence of employability rankings in 2015 provides further evidence into the rising importance of shaping future-ready global talent in the classroom.



Moira McLoughlin, senior lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Social Sciences, University of Salford:
Working in higher education for nearly 20 years I have often been in the vanguard of innovation and creativity where student education is concerned. In 1999 we developed a new curriculum, which included problem-based learning as the key teaching and learning strategy (generating a great deal of anxiety among academics). The classroom truly became “flipped” and the “sage on the stage” had to become the “guide on the side”. Predictions for HE in 2016 include more of the same, but in ways that truly harness student creativity to solve real-world problems – PBL, co-curation of content, partnerships with students in learning and teaching, flexible learning approaches to assessment and feedback and increasing online content. Devices will transform education and academics will need to make explicit how important the digital footprint truly is in the 21st century.


Smita Jamdar, Partner & Head of Education for law firm Shakespeare Martineau LLP:
Lawyers have a reputation as doom-mongers, which my prediction will do nothing to dispel: more litigation owing to recent controversial policy changes. Students (and possibly staff) will challenge Prevent interventions through discrimination claims and as breach of statutory free speech and academic freedom duties. Disability claims will increase as DSA changes shift more responsibility to institutions already struggling with the concept (let alone the funding) of reasonable adjustments. Institutions will have to challenge regulators (eg, UKVI requirements, or TEF judgements) as the consequences of non-compliance become ever more severe. And, obscurely, ESOS compliance. Keep an eye out for ESOS compliance.


Martin Hall, former vice-chancellor of the University of Salford and professor emeritus at the University of Cape Town (and THE contributor):
2016 will be a challenging year for higher education in South Africa. Universities are unaffordable for a large majority and loans and bursaries are inadequate. The 2015 academic year ended with a temporary compromise on fees and funding but no long-term solution and student protests are likely to continue, and coalesce with broader protests about poor living conditions and state services in the build up to critical local government elections in May. Students are also arguing for radical changes to the curriculum, highlighting the slow pace of change away from the apartheid years. At the same time, the 2015 protest movements across South African university campuses revealed a depth of creativity and commitment to new ways of thinking and working. A key factor for 2016 will be the ability of government, university managers and student movements to work together in order to make higher education both accessible and relevant. 

Paul Boyle, president and vice-chancellor, University of Leicester:
The gender equality movement in HE will gain greater momentum, backed by initiatives like the UN Women's HeForShe, with more women being appointed to senior roles.


Not all the predictions submitted focused on 2016. Following our article on what the university sector might look like in 2030, many of our readers opted to look slightly further ahead.



There were also some more light-hearted (but believable?) predictions...



Update: We’re still receiving plenty of your predictions – we’ll add them below as we get them!

Nigel Carrington, vice-chancellor, University of the Arts London:
In 2016, the detail of the higher education Green Paper will preoccupy people who could usefully focus on first principles. Lecturers and technicians need active students, and vice versa. Subjects like maths and law are taught differently to science and creative subjects. A successful education is measured longitudinally across a career or lifetime, rather than by output metrics or a snapshot within a year of graduation. One size does not fit all. It is vital we work closely with policymakers to recognise the real nature and diversity of the sector.


Paul Monks, interim PVC for research and enterprise, University of Leicester:
There will be more focus on how to encourage, manage, rate and fund interdisciplinary research, as institutions and agencies respond to recommendations emerging from the Nurse and REF reviews.


Paul Springer, associate dean – external development, School of Arts & Digital Industries, University of East London:
2016 will be a breakthrough year for front end, what-you-see creativity in tech, after last year’s peak in demand for new info-tech gadgets – quicker, slimmer phones; higher functioning tablets; Apple watches, for example. Now we’re talking about the latest content – interfaces, software, and video clips – and just how far we can push the limits in new and exciting ways.

Of course, they’ll ripple through higher education – not least in using social media to blend real-time events with pre-planned courses. It’ll also be a massive commercial opportunity for us within East London’s rapidly growing digital and creative industries. 


Evelyne Rugg, director of HE policy, University of Westminster:
2016 could be the breakthrough year for local delivery of higher skills and partnerships between HE and FE. Some new combined further and higher colleges will expand their higher skills delivery to meet local employer needs, thus taking over some of the core degree delivery typically in the university domain.

At least one of the new providers ennobled by the government’s Green Paper proposals is likely to merge with a university to acquire its research capability to meet the criteria for university status, and justify charging £15,000 fees for undergraduate courses – albeit with a fee loan entitlement capped at £6,000.


Andrew Edwards, dean of the Faculty of Sport & Health Sciences at the University of St Mark & St John:
REF 2020 will be delayed and become REF 2022. After so many delays and missed deadlines it seems inevitable that REF 2020 will be postponed which would also facilitate greater opportunity to reappraise the process, and seek greater diversification and less centralisation of resources within the HE elite. Areas of societal importance such as research addressing obesity, diabetes, nutrition and physical inactivity are aligned with applied sciences not well or exclusively covered by the Russell Group institutes. Redistribution of REF funds to address diversification and societal need may be a positive outcome from this prediction.


Malcolm von Schantz, reader in molecular neurobiology,  University of Surrey:
In 2016, we will find out the fine print of the Global Challenges Fund, the massive new investment into globalised research announced by the chancellor at the spending review. It will be a great funding boost, and universities with well-developed international links will benefit the most.

“It will also be the year when the effects a Brexit would have will become painfully clear to the academic community. They will have to make their voices very clear in defence of the priceless benefits of the Erasmus and European research funding schemes, and of unrestricted movement of academic labour.


Send your HE predictions to our Twitter account using the hashtag #HEpredictions!

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