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Higher Education in 2014: Predictions

Higher Education in 2014: Predictions main image

2013 saw a lot of changes in the world of higher education; there were cuts, tuition hikes, boosts in technological facilities, and more cuts. With governments and education sectors across the globe trying to regain stability after a turbulent five years of financial insecurity, 2014 sees a continued effort from all sides to remain prosperous even if this comes at the expense of students themselves.

There is good news to be had, however, if a little harder to come by amidst all the news of high costs and hardship for students. Advancements in online education facilities at established schools will continue, providing more opportunities for students to enhance their research and their studies in general, and, in some regions, 2014 will offer more graduate jobs than there’s been in almost a decade.

Read on for a look at some of the most significant higher education trends to watch in the coming year...

Changes in student demographics

Forbes has reported that ‘traditional’ student demographics – ie. aged 18-24 and studying full-time on campus – now reflect less than 20% of students today. A rise in those choosing to study later in life, part-time, off-campus or through internet resources has long been charted but many institutions and policy-makers are failing to adapt to student demographics to match the way society is learning. This greater diversity in student demographics calls for new and more flexible ways to deliver education. And so, this year, universities will be pushed to provide better online resources and course adaptation for part-time and online students, if they don’t want to be beaten by the web.

This leads us nicely on to MOOCs. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are continuing to gain credibility in the higher education world, with top universities such as Yale and Harvard now providing introductory courses for free. And, while the hype surrounding MOOCs in 2013 may seem impossible to live up to, it’s undeniable that MOOCs have caused schools to take notice of their competition and continue to focus on maintaining high standards for on-campus courses.

Rise of ‘competency-based education’

Connected to the previous point is the idea of ‘competency-based education’, referring to education tailored around what an individual already knows and growing from that point, meaning faster and more efficient progress. The concept has been around for 20 years, having been pioneered by the Western Governors’ University, an online institution that boasts graduates who complete their degrees two years faster than the national US average.

The growing popularity of competency-based education is also, in part, due to the growing prevalence of faculty-approved online courses and the likelihood that these courses will be able to offer full university credit in the near future.

Of course, the influence of top universities and Ivy League schools will not change radically this year or even in the next decade, but questions of whether mid- and lower-league schools are offering the best means of education for the best prices are certainly becoming more prominent. Anthony Carenvale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in the US, says: “Whereas the legitimacy of a course at Harvard is Harvard, the legitimacy of one of these [competency-based education] courses is, did you learn anything?”

And so, in 2014 and beyond, universities without very well-established world-leading reputations will have to adapt and grow to prove that they can teach effectively in a digital age.

More cuts to higher education funding in Europe

It’s tempting to overlook, but cuts to higher education funding are still happening across Europe. Around 130 universities and colleges across England have seen cuts of 25% in capital funding in the past two years meaning that despite rising tuition fees, which now stand at £9,000 per year (approximately US$15,000) at the top UK institutions, students are receiving less from their universities in terms of learning support, facilities and course materials.

Countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania are all struggling to maintain higher education funding levels due the economic troubles that have been affecting the entire region. While many institutions within Northern and Western Europe are regaining stability and prosperity in the global market, the gap is widening between the two halves.

Better university learning spaces

Despite all these cutbacks, more and more university learning spaces are being rebuilt, modernized and brought into the 21st century. Top universities such as Cornell, Northwestern and New York University in the US have all recently commissioned multimillion-dollar building plans.

In New York alone it has been estimated by the New York Building Congress that higher education institutions have spent US$4.2 billion on construction plans in the last five years, with that figure expected to soar to approximately US$10 billion over the next five years.

This means students better facilities and modern technologies in the long run, but with some of these plans not marked for completion until after 2030, those who currently study on campuses resembling building sites may again be just a little bit embittered at the prices they are paying. But with government and grant money in the UK and the US still available for these modern learning spaces, expect to see more announcements of these brilliant but sometimes bitter-sweet architectural plans for universities in 2014.

More graduate jobs – in the UK, at least

There is light at the end of the 2014 tunnel however, for UK students at least. According to an article for the Financial Times, the number of graduate jobs available in the UK will hit a seven-year high this year. These graduate jobs figures come from a survey conducted by High Flyers Research and are based on the UK’s 100 top employers including KPMG and the BBC. The research predicts that 2014 will see an 8.7% increase in job vacancies from last year, which will be the largest annual growth since 2009.

The growth of graduate jobs in the UK is set to be largest within the public sector, investment banks, accounting firms and engineering companies. Managing director of High Fliers Research, Martin Birchall, said prospects for this year’s graduates are the best they’ve been since the financial crisis in 2009.

Continued development of technology in higher education

On another brighter note, technology is continuing to get better and more advanced within (and without) higher education. 2014 will see ‘gamification’ becoming a bigger deal, combining app interaction and game play to aid student retention. While ‘gamification’ probably won’t become a word we use in everyday conversation, do expect to see a wider integration of deep learning devices and ‘game play’ within some university curriculums.

And if we all weren’t spending enough time on our iPhones already, this year also sees a rise in the availability and functionality of speech to text applications, which can be used to turn your speech, or a lecturer’s words into text via your smart phone. This ‘Siri-esque’ technology is a big focus in 2014 for the likes of Google (Google Voice), Apple (MacSpeech Dictate) and Nuance (Dragon Dictation) and is expected to garner huge changes within higher education in the next few years, ultimately in the way students interact in seminars and lectures. But don’t chuck your notepads and pens out just yet; the technology is still being perfected for mobile devices and the mass market.

This year will not only see the development of technology we’re already acquainted with, such as tablets and mobile devices, but, less ordinarily, we’ll begin to see more scientific advancements into the way society understands how the brain learns, which in turn will promote student productivity and innovation within the entire academic world.

What are your predictions for higher education in 2014? Share in the comments below.

Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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