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Reshaping higher education for the future

06 Jan 2021 | Dr Kay Hack (PFHEA) Kay Hack, Advance HE Principal Adviser (Learning and Teaching), introduces the January theme of our Connect Benefit Series 'Rethinking delivery models for quality higher education for all'.

We are at a pivot point - economically, socially and environmentally. Changes to ways of living, learning and working, driven by the fourth industrial revolution and artificial intelligence, have accelerated during the pandemic. Post-Covid scenarios including a predicted global recession, longer working lives, AI and geographical shifts in centres of excellence for high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, finance, and IT will all impact the global demand for higher education. Thought leaders have recognised that the emerging skills landscape cannot be supplied by a one-directional pipeline between secondary education and professional work.

They envision agile, lifelong learning opportunities where learning is at the heart of an eco-system that supports seamless and equitable transitions between tertiary education providers and employment.

The ‘art of the possible’ has been transformed over the last nine months. Engaging, participatory high quality higher education has been taking place across disciplinary, institutional and geographical boundaries, demonstrating that it is possible to motivate and engage students and develop the competencies for virtual working and the habits of mind required for life-long learning in an online environment. This has raised questions about whether the three-year on-campus residential degree is fit for purpose and provides value for money. The proliferation of alternative opportunities including degree apprenticeships and flexible modes of accredited delivery, as well as open access courses and certificated programmes from ‘big-tech’ companies, such as Google, Amazon and Apple is encouraging students to question the cost and the value of the predominant model of higher education.

This in turn questions ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘for whom’ higher education is offered. The reliance of the global higher education sector on transnational education and international student mobility has also been exposed by the current crisis, further questioning the value and the capacity of on-campus provision to meet the global demand for higher education, and how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and provide life-long opportunities for all” can be met.

The pandemic has highlighted that most higher education institutions need to enhance their capacity to deliver flexible and resilient education systems that would meet student expectations and the accelerating social and economic transformations that wider society anticipates. This requires a ‘rethink’ not only of what and how we teach but also what shape HEIs need to take to deliver on the changing demands of students, employers and society.

This month we will look at the key issues of quality, flexibility and accessibility from the perspectives of the HEI and the student to understand the tensions around what is best for student success and how HEIs can meet changing needs of society and employers and what is best for the sustainability of the institution.

By the end of the month, members will have had the opportunity to:

  • debate future visions for higher education inspired by thought leaders with expertise in transnational education, unbundling higher education and knowledge exchange
  • reflect on the changing models for HE and gain insight into the implications for HE institutions
  • review learners’ experiences of a range of tertiary providers including degree apprenticeships, accredited MOOCs and certificate programmes offered by the ‘big-tech’ providers
  • stimulate thinking into how to work with other organisations to deliver equitable access to higher education
  • consider the digital strategy and infrastructure required to deliver new models of higher education.

The Connect Benefit Series is an Advance HE member benefit and is open to colleagues at Advance HE member institutions. 

January's theme 'Re-thinking delivery models for quality Higher Education for all' will look at the key issues of quality, flexibility and accessibility from the perspectives of the HEI and the student to understand the tensions between what is best for student success and how HEIs can meet changing needs of society and employer versus what is best for the sustainability of the institution.

27 January Webinar – Higher education for the future – a digital perspective

As part of this theme, our three guest contributors Vangelis Tsiligkiris, Principal Lecturer, Nottingham Business School, Laura Czerniewicz, Professor, Cape Town University and Mark Birkin, Professor of Spatial Analysis and Policy, University of Leeds have recoded videos their thoughts and views on Reshaping higher education for the future.

This discursive webinar with will be shaped from questions and thoughts around these videos, which webinar attendees can submit beforehand. The videos can be found here, and the form to submit questions and thoughts can be found here. Additionally, a forum has been opened in Advance HE Connect for colleagues to discuss this topic further. Book your place on the webinar here.

Find out more about the other outputs for this theme and related products and services

Kay will be leading the new Flexible by Design collaborative project due to start in September 2021, find out more about the project and request an information sheet here.


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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