University education around the world is facing pressures for reform from multiple directions. Student demands for more flexible and cheaper study options, new technologies challenging traditional teaching models and competition from new providers are all shifting the status quo. A wave of game-changing innovations from universities and other providers around the world that are redefining the experience of higher education (HE) for millions of learners. Will the UK university system be able to maintain its reputation for world-class education against these challenges?
This report is based on PA’s seventh annual survey of university vice-chancellors and other leaders of HE institutions. This year’s survey focused on innovation in HE - which developments in teaching and learning are regarded as the most important, how institutions are responding to them and the changes sector leaders foresee for the HE system in the coming years.
University leaders acknowledge the importance of emerging global innovations but see the UK system lagging in every major area. They express concerns about the responsiveness of their own institutions to these developments, and the implications for the future competitiveness of UK providers.
In past surveys, over half of vice-chancellors predicted 'significant numbers' of possible institution failures or forced mergers. In contrast, very few predicted such events this year.
Predictions of significant numbers of institutional failures.
"Never underestimate the extent to which universities are conservative places. Driving innovation is hard work and often requires leaders to go out on a limb."
"The HE sector is well-funded and demand is strong. Compared to other sectors, the conditions to drive innovation are just not there."
"The risk is that these predictions become self-realising, which would leave the UK university system as a museum of 20th Century education while the rest of the world moves on."
Based on our research, we have identified seven themes that have the potential to transform the academic offers, delivery models and organisation of higher education.