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What are the drivers and innovations shaping tomorrow’s higher education landscape?

Author: Maria Spies, Managing Director at HolonIQ. Global Education Market Intelligence for decisions that matter

What are the drivers and innovations shaping tomorrow’s higher education landscape?

Higher education is a global story and, like many other sectors, being impacted by global trends that are re-shaping whole industries. These trends present critical challenges for the sector but also tremendous opportunities for those who understand the changes under way and how to convert them into positive momentum for their institution.

There is no doubt that tertiary education is growing, with numbers doubling from 100m to 207m between 2000 and 2014. However, demand for education is unlikely to come from the traditional places or in a traditional form.  The very nature of future growth is set to challenge our assumptions about higher education provision, the ‘shape’ of the industry, what ‘providers’ look like, the role of regulators, and perhaps the role of employers.

Four mega-trends impacting tertiary education globally

Globalisation and growth – The global economic outlook has a profound influence on where and how we deliver learning. The world economy is likely to double in size by 2050 and the E7 economies could have increased their share of world GDP from around 35% to almost 50%. With expectations of three billion in the Asian middle class by 2030, who will all want tertiary education for their children, this demand is hard to fathom. It is clear, however, that the current sector will be unable to meet this demand. Indeed, UNESCO predicts that by 2025, 98 million qualified students worldwide will be excluded from higher education due to a shortage of university seats.

Global population changes – The next decade will see an additional 350m post-secondary graduates and nearly 800m more high school graduates than today. Asia and Africa are likely to drive the biggest changes in education attainment over the next decade with Africa delivering nearly 90 million more primary education people through to 2030 and Asia bringing 200 million more post-secondary graduates. At the same time, ageing populations in developed countries see diminishing school-age populations and fewer working aged people supporting a larger group of retirees.

The future of work and skills – By 2030 the global skills deficit is expected to reach 85.2m workers with India being the lone country with a skills surplus. It is expected that, by 2027 more than half of US workers will be in contingent work. This rise of the “gig economy” —in which workers freelance either exclusively or to augment salaried work—is a global phenomenon. Younger workers no longer expect to remain with a single company for long, and 40% of all workers expect to change jobs in a given year.

At the same time, there has been much publicity about the loss of millions of jobs to automation, the new set of skills that will be required of the future workforce, and predictions around the number of jobs and careers that will be the norm. These workforce changes present immense challenges for individuals, societies and economies, but also opportunities as millions of workers will need to be re-skilled to transition into new jobs and ongoing training to keep pace with the new world of work.

Advancements in technology – Advances in technology, along with a vast reduction in technology costs over the past 15 years have provided the foundation for genuine transformation of a global education sector. The move to mobile, social, personalised and gamified learning has been years in the making, while the impact of artificial intelligence is yet to be seen. More than half the world’s population now use the internet, with much of the developing world leapfrogging to mobile connections.

“In short, huge demand for tertiary education is coming our way, providing substantial opportunities for education providers. However, demand is unlikely to be in the shape and form of current education models.

Four key trends driving new business models in education

Collapsing learning-work boundaries – It used to be that university students who were not straight out of high school were called ‘non-traditional learners’ – this cohort now constitutes the largest number of university enrolments worldwide. Working adults who are reskilling or upskilling make up the majority of university enrolments globally and for programmes delivered online, over half of undergraduate and postgraduate courses are in the professions of business, IT and health. Traditional providers will need to ‘re-tool’ in order to service this growing demographic of learner if they are to support learners through a lifetime of learning and compete effectively in the global education market.

Global opportunity – Shaped by an increasingly global work of work and commerce, education is no longer bound fully by its geographic and cultural context. Most universities now ‘compete’ for students globally, both online and offline. Indeed, with a vast number of learners from emerging economies, who can neither afford or will want to travel offshore for their education, new ways of engaging with a global cohort of learners are already available. These emerging models are typically built for global scale, are focussed on servicing new sets of skills required for the 21st Century, move at a fast pace, are not contained within national or geographic boundaries and, for the most part, operate completely outside any regulatory framework.

Small, specific and ongoing – Alternative providers come with alternative credentials. And there’s no doubt that alternative credentials are gaining traction. If the ‘degree’ was the old ticket to ride, the new kids on the block are microcredentials, nano-degrees, digital badges and a revival of competency-based education. OK, so perhaps everything that is old is new again? The point here is that technology can facilitate digital, scalable, borderless opportunities that just weren’t available in the past.

Technology-led and personalised – Technology will need to take a leading role in education given the scale of learners and learning required over the next 10-20 years, whether for the youth bulge in Africa and Asia, or for the significant re-skilling required in developed economies. Advanced technology has the potential to provide personalisation at scale and technology companies and alternative providers are entering the global tertiary education market to find solutions for scale. Backed by significant funding they continue to modify and perfect their business models, reach into markets around the world, improve quality and gain recognition from employers and industry groups.

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