What lies ahead for higher education?

With 2016 just ahead, we ponder the state of campuses past, present and future

December 24, 2015
2016 road ahead

It’s traditional, when predicting the future, to take one of two paths: to forecast a neon world of flying cars, jetpacks and robots, or to plump for a tomorrow that’s much the same as today.

But how do these rules of crystal ball gazing translate into predictions about the future of higher education? To find out, we asked scholars and university leaders from across the world and a range of academic disciplines to give us their vision for the university of 2030.

The results, in our cover story, do reference the classic templates – from the computer scientist who predicts a future ruled by artificial intelligence, in which both the university and the graduate job market are destroyed, to the former vice-chancellor who concludes: “I am willing to stick my neck out and make a prediction. Universities of the future will be much like those of today.”

But within this spectrum, our sages explore a host of potential developments.

Dan Schwartz and Candace Thille of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education predict step changes in our understanding of how the brain learns, in data-supported teaching choices, how exams should work and how universities’ departmental boundaries are set up (or knocked down).

Warren Bebbington, vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide, foretells a return to long-held academic values, an unmasking of flaky pedagogic fads that leads to a “re‑energised” lecture and a decluttering of teaching and learning, in which technology plays second fiddle to focused study.

By contrast, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University, envisages 2030 as an age of fierce competition fuelled by further technological innovation, which he thinks will drive down both tuition fees and academic salary bills.

One of the benefits of predicting a future 15 years hence, of course, is that predictions are likely to be long forgotten by the time their due date arrives.

So a question of more immediate consequence, as we reach the end of the year, might be: what will the university of 2016, or at least the higher education environment, look like?

Taking the approach that it will build on key trends from 2015, topics worth watching include the drive to measure teaching quality and graduate outcomes, continued tension over freedom of speech on campus, the trade-off between international student recruitment and restrictive visa regimes, and further agonising over the future of research assessment.

Before we get to the new year, however, there’s Christmas, which we’re marking in this week’s Times Higher Education with two different takes on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

For the first, in our features pages, Nicholas Rowe, who is studying for a PhD at the University of Lapland (yes, really), sets the tale in a modern university, with Bob Cratchit an overworked academic working on a digital publishing strategy to end all publishing strategies.

In the second, A Christmas Carol comes to the University of Poppleton.

All that remains is to wish our readers a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year – whether it brings rule by robot, the Office for Students, or something none of us has foreseen.

john.gill@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Hopes and fears of all the years

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Post-doctoral Research Associate in Chemistry

University Of Western Australia

PACE Data Support Officer

Macquarie University - Sydney Australia

Associate Lecturer in Nursing

Central Queensland University
See all jobs

Most Commented

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

Mitch Blunt illustration (23 March 2017)

Without more conservative perspectives in the academy, lawmakers will increasingly ignore and potentially defund social science, says Musa al-Gharbi

Alexander Wedderburn

Former president of the British Psychological Society remembered

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham