“The search for elusive growth depends, to a considerable extent, on our ability to stay at the forefront of international higher education,” writes Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, in a blog for the Knowledge Centre at the University of Warwick.
“If we don’t, highly mobile students and academic staff have the world to choose from,” he says, before imploring the government not to cut spending on higher education when it announces the details of its next public spending review on 26 June.
“Our job, as our government gears up for some extremely difficult spending decisions, is to convince them that this is precisely the wrong moment to cut back on education and research. We’re part of the answer, not part of the problem.”
Professor Thomas’ blog is one of a series of posts from influential figures in the world of higher education that were published ahead of the 2013 Global University Summit, 28-30 May. The event, for which Times Higher Education is a media partner, was a platform from which leading figures from politics and higher education could discuss some of the challenges facing higher education globally.
In another of the pre-event blogs, Simon Nelson, chief executive of Futurelearn, the UK massive open online course platform, asks if the role of the traditional university experience is “in jeopardy as more and more people use technology to access education anywhere and at any time”.
“Reproducing ‘lectures online’ is unlikely to be enough for increasingly sophisticated online learners,” he says. “Free online education needs to be something that brings learning in to people’s lives, not demands that they step out of their lives to take part.”
He concludes that the changes in online learning will serve to “complement rather than replace the conventional, physical, and selective teaching experience by enthusing the next generation of university undergraduates”.
In a third blog, Sir Michael Barber, chief education strategist for Pearson and a former adviser to Tony Blair when he was prime minister, paints a worrying picture of higher education in the 21st century.
“Models of higher education that marched triumphantly across the globe in the second half of the twentieth century are insufficient for the future,” he says. “Just as globalisation and technology have transformed other huge sectors of the economy in the past 20 years, in the next 20 years universities face transformation.”
Stating that innovation needs to be “at the heart” of any successful higher education system, he warns that any country that wants to provide “global leadership” must undertake a radical overhaul of its education system.
“Innovation drives economic influence; economic influence underpins global leadership; and global leadership requires innovation to solve the many problems facing humanity in the next half century,” he states.
“If this is correct, and innovation is the key, then even the best education systems in the world need to radically rethink what they offer every student. This is true regardless of geography.”
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