The Professors Profess… The Future of British HE in 2020

As everyone is uneasily waiting for the nearly £4 billion cuts to the budget for higher education in the 2010 Spending Review to be announced today, EducationGuardian pre-emptively published the predictions of UK academics about the impact of the funding cuts for the next ten years. Below is a selection of what they thought was coming.

The rise of the “black arts” of enrolment management
Prof. Claire Callender from the Institute of Education in London thinks that universities will be at the core of a quickly developing industry of enrolment management, calculating the number of students that can be recruited at different price rates, rates of discounts for different groups of students, etc. If Tesco can do it, why not universities? Buy one degree in chemistry, get one free in history, anyone?

Socrates in the local chippy
Prof. Gillian Evans from the University of Cambridge was concerned with the recommendation of the Browne’s report to end public funding for all subjects not considered priority, i.e., courses other than science, technology or courses not deemed to be providing “significant social returns.” In her scenario subjects such as palaeography or philosophy will have to vacate the publicly funded buildings and go back to the Aristotelian peripatetic method in the streets.

RyanAir Universities
Roger Brown from the Centre of Higher Education Research Development forecasts the emergence of a tiered system like the one in the USA. At the top there will be a small group of elite institutions which will be charging the highest fees. Then there will be the vast majority of “no-frills” universities, teaching mainly applied courses.

What I found surprising in the scenarios discussed by the Guardian was the lack of mention of learning technologies as a factor which will play a crucial role in helping universities pull through what without a doubt will be a very difficult shake up. A scenario by the BBC did foresee an increase in the provision of online courses, describing the mobile learning experiences of fictional students of the future.

Disturbingly, however, instead of drawing upon the advances in innovative learning and teaching for distance learners for which there are numerous examples amongst British universities (the University of Leicester for example has more than 8000 distance learners, the Open University would be another excellent example), the report seemed to promote the work of a private, for-profit, non-university provider, which “is positioning itself in this market and has already made the content of some courses wholly accessible via mobile phone.”

I think in the climate to come it will be more important than ever for institutions to be able and willing to share their experiences in using learning technologies to offer no-cost or low-cost solutions for learners and teachers, especially those that have been peer-reviewed.

20/10/2010 Sandra Romenska
Creating Academic Learning Futures (CALF) project

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