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Universities must lead the revolution – FE News


UK higher education is facing a crisis.

The world has changed at lightning speed over the last decade. Each year brings a new challenge that pushes us to adapt to the “new normality” – Brexit and Covid-19, in particular, have shut down the UK higher education industry, affecting everything from academic collaboration to international student mobility. The destructive factors of the higher education sector are spreading to technology, growing skills shortages and global competition, the need for digital literacy to be at the forefront of learning has never been so urgent.

It goes without saying that technology has rapidly transformed in all sectors of the economy. According to Salesforce research, according to forecasts, two-thirds of world GDP by the end of 2022 will be digital products and services – an opportunity for higher education providers not to miss. Current and future students are looking forward to earning academic degrees that will strengthen their careers in the future while remaining relevant and knowledgeable in the world around them. Technology has changed the options open to prospective students, while expectations from the learning experience have changed, causing significant disruptions in the sector.

These developments mean that the world of higher education is facing many fronts. However, with every storm cloud comes silver. The demand for higher education has never been so strong and we need to seize the opportunities that give all these challenges. The future of learning depends on the universities that will innovate to meet the needs of their students. So, there are a few things we need to focus on if we want to overcome this storm and build stronger.

Employment opportunities and an urgent need for digital skills

Today, universities are responsible for introducing digital and technological skills into the education of their students. If the university is not going to prepare you for the modern workforce, why study in the first place? Universities must provide students with the skills they need to be competitive graduates.

In 2021, international recruiters for the first time put digital and soft skills above academic benefits for employment, according to Global employment ranking. On the other hand, academic success dropped to fifth place, taking first place in 2019. Meanwhile, from January 2020 to January 2022, vacancies in the UK for digital and technology vacancies grew by 55.7% to more than 340,000. This is equivalent to more than 25% of the UK’s entire technology industry, which grew by just 2.1% over the same period of time. And these are just digital and technological roles. Extrapolate this to positions that require “soft” digital skills in other sectors, and the numbers will only get bigger.

It is clear that digital skills are needed in all aspects of society and this is becoming the most important factor for employment. We need to focus on putting digital literacy at the heart of our students ’learning using technology and digital solutions to stay competitive in the global higher education marketplace.

The choice of students is expanding

Universities need to use their place in the learning ecosystem. As the founding CEO of FutureLearn, I saw firsthand how electricity technology can be used when it comes to empowering people over their learning experiences. More than ever, people have real, fair choices when it comes to where, what, and how they learn. Covid-19 has accelerated this for higher education by changing learning models and pushing universities to rapidly implement online learning solutions to continue their studies. I’m sure many of us remember stories in the media about the negative impact on student experiences and calls to reduce or drop tuition fees as a result. It was an alarming call that we must continue to listen to, even as we look to the future after the pandemic.

Employers are equally shocked by the situation, industries are moving, and graduates need to be prepared for digital technology or face frustration in a competitive market of candidates. The skills gap, which is constantly increasing, is forcing us to reconsider hiring strategies. Instead of waiting for graduates to leave universities and train them, businesses are changing their hiring strategies to attract school graduates by teaching them on the job while helping them continue their education. The appeal to business is clear: why wait three years for a cohort of people who still need training when I can more quickly bring talent into my ecosystem? For individuals, this path to work is also attractive. Earn while you study, without accumulating debt and recognized qualifications for a master’s degree without the need to study full-time. It’s not for everyone, and the model is new, as are the numbers, but it should be a warning bell for higher education providers.

Universities need to be aware of both challenges and ensure that they provide their students with a learning experience that meets individual and broader economic needs, providing the results that students and employers expect when it comes to achieving their career and business goals.

Universities need to be relevant

To address these growing challenges, universities need to innovate, change and change faster. As I mentioned, students are given more choices than ever when it comes to their education and path to work, while hiring strategies are already affected by changes in international student mobility. To differentiate, higher education institutions must focus on values ​​- for their partners, agents and students.

By putting these core digital values ​​and employment values ​​at the core of our industry, we will remain relevant globally. When it comes to enrolling students, continuing to offer attractive degrees, support and career prospects to students from around the world is essential not only for the success of universities at the individual level, but also for the success of the UK economy as a whole. The UK has always been a leader in this market, but we are seeing a fundamental shift in the global knowledge economy with growing competition from mainland China. The changing landscape in the internationalization of higher education is not something we can ignore.

What solution? Industrial partnership is key

The good news is that we don’t start with anything. On the one hand, the higher education sector has excellent partnerships. Just look at the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. Enhancing employment partnerships will be key if we are to address these challenges and seize the opportunities they present.

I sincerely believe that by working with employers and skills providers to incorporate employment opportunities into digital-focused learning programs, universities can increase their experience of recruiting and educating in a way that gives students – and their future employers – exactly what they are. looking for. But the industry has a lot of work to do and we need to act now!

Can employers provide experience in full-time courses? Can universities and employers work together to offer students flexible, flexible ways of earning and learning that meet their expectations? Can universities work with skills providers to identify gaps that students are currently facing to ensure the best chance of success after graduation?

Only by talking and learning from each other will we be able to create a strong value proposition for today’s learners, making it clear that entering a university means getting both the best education and the best start to your career. We are lucky to work in such a wonderful sector to solve problems and results. So let’s talk and let’s go now.

Simon Nelson, Chief Executive Officer for Higher Education, QA

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