University life in 2034 could have descended into a dystopian nightmare, where all students take concentration pills, campus bars have gone bust, and “experiences purely for the sake of fun are rare”, a new report on the future of higher education in the UK envisages.
The scenario – one of four future paths for the sector put forward in Living and Learning in 2034: a Higher Education Futures Project, from student accommodation firm Unite Group and the University Alliance mission group – imagines a highly competitive society 20 years from now in which the economy has stagnated.
“The student wakes with the bare minimum amount of sleep,” his eyes bloodshot, according to the scenario penned by a current student. “Focus is essential, so he starts the day by taking the concentration pills that sit by his bedside,” it continues.
The report warns that in this scenario, higher education could “almost exclusively” be about training for employment and full-time degrees might take only 18 months to complete.
In this world, most student bars have gone out of business, “the clubs and societies enjoyed by previous generations have mainly fallen by the wayside”, experiences purely for fun are rare and “large-scale social gatherings are severely limited”, the report adds.
There is a “pronounced” gap between a small number of “elite” universities and the rest, overall student numbers are down, and few go on to postgraduate education.
This is the gloomiest of the scenarios envisaged in the report, which concludes that the system of funding for undergraduate study is a “potentially unsustainable and unaffordable system in the long term”.
One other alternative for 2034 is a country in which employers expect students to have a “rounded” university experience and where postgraduate study is the norm.