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Can digitisation help us scale with the demands of higher education in 2030?

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According to a detailed study from the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), by the year 2030, there will be an extra 300,000 undergraduates that require places in our higher education institutions – which means the government faces the task of trying to find the funding for them. A further 350,000 places will be needed to keep up with the existing growing participation rate, but other factors, such as Brexit, may reduce that by 50,000.

The upsurge comes due to a demographic bulge in the 18-year-old population in the 2020's and further increases in the proportion of young people going to university, which will drive the upturn according to the study, and raise the issue of capping the number of places at universities.  Alternatively, perhaps it’s time we did things differently now we have the technology to help us.

There is a ‘physicality’ about educational institutions. We’ve all been to school, even if we haven’t progressed to HE. That required turning up to sit at a desk with your peers in a classroom with a teacher on a daily basis and was time-consuming. And scheduling thousands of students on hundreds of courses through a university campus that has limited lecture space and time is a task in itself.

Digitisation is increasingly delivering a blended view especially in HE as anywhere that has an Internet connection can now be a seat of learning.  This delivers two major benefits in the race to deliver more learning for less campus time and resources:

  1. The ability to deliver courses more efficiently and potentially reduce the time it takes to deliver them. A traditional university course is three years, but could they be delivered more efficiently and reduce that time significantly? The digital campus can undoubtedly deliver this.
  2. The ability to remove the prominence of the physical campus and deliver a more blended approach putting increasing emphasis on flipping the classroom so that learning happens off-site digitally before lectures or classroom time.

Technology, it seems, holds many of the answers to the problems identified by the report. Undoubtedly digitisation provides accessibility to knowledge. The clear advantage of this over the traditional classroom is information can be accessed anytime and anywhere from any device. This provides learners with the flexibility to learn their way and not be constrained to times and locations.  And it’s our student population that is driving technological adoption.

Generation Y is more digitally savvy than ever before, owns smartphones and tablet computers and uses social media almost ubiquitously. They have high expectations that technology can provide benefits associated with remote working and the ability to collaborate with colleagues or friends from anywhere – and they will ultimately be the 300,000 students we need to plan for.

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