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Higher Education: a rapidly changing world

04 Jul 2018 | Advance HE Day Two of the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2018 is in full swing, with our chief executive, Alison Johns, introducing our second keynote speaker, John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education (THE) to the stage.

4 July: Day Two of the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2018 is in full swing, with our chief executive, Alison Johns, introducing our second keynote speaker, John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education (THE) to the stage.

In his talk, “Higher Education: a rapidly changing world” John spoke about the role of THE’s World University Rankings, the impact of Brexit and the emergence of China as a power-player in global higher education.

THE’s World University Rankings saw 1,457 universities submit data, 3,513 universities voted for and 62 million citations analysed, meaning that John is extremely well qualified to talk about current global trends. Focussing on the UK’s reputation as a world-class player in higher education, John discussed the risks of our universities becoming a “fading force” post-Brexit. The WEF relegated the UK in the Global Competitiveness Index from 7th to 8th this year, reflecting the potential risk for the UK’s ranking after Brexit. The biggest risks include:

  • Competition for international students
  • EU student’s access post Brexit
  • Research: loss of international talent, uncertainty about Horizon Europe

Brexit could be significant in a loss of share of total value of Horizon 2020 projects coordinated.

John also looked at global trends in international student mobility. He explained that recruiting international students is “one of the very few taps that universities can turn in terms of funding” due to the reputation of British universities overseas. Many international students seek to obtain a degree from a British university, and the UK has capitalised on this and is massively outperforming the rest of the world on international metrics.

John asked if TEF will reshape demand from international students, asking if a Chinese student will look at what level of award a UK university has in TEF before deciding whether to apply or not?

Fluctuations in currency can also affect international demand. One of the good things coming out of Brexit, he suggested, was the pound dropping in value which made the UK a cheap place to study, however, countries improving their domestic provisions such as China can have an impact on our intake of international students.

The biggest growth in the UK is still from Chinese students and continues to grow. The estimated number of enrolments in higher education of students aged 18-22 in 2020 is predicted to be 37.4 million. This figure should give the UK positive indicators of the flow of growth of international students as China will not have the capacity to educate this amount of students domestically.

However, John had some caveats on the so-called Asian “miracle” since there is a major problem with graduate unemployment in many Asian countries.

There is huge unemployment rate in South Korea, which rose to 8.2% last year - the highest since 1999. In India, half of graduate are not employable in any sector based on industry standards of employability according to EY report “HE in Indian vision 2030”.

China also has a graduate unemployment rate of 16%. The graduate premium has declined by about 20%, and there are plans to convert 600 colleges into vocational schools. However this is counter balanced by the “double-first” class projects funnelling money to top ranking universities by 2050. Two Chinese universities in the top 100 in the world ranking, Peking University and Tsinghua University – and John said that heads of these institutions are actively seeking to “poach” Chinese academics from Western universities in order to increase teaching and research quality at their universities. Currently the US produces more research publications than any other country but China is rapidly catching up and by 2019 will be the biggest spender on R&D and will overtake the US in terms of research output within 5 years. This is due to rapid growth in budget of the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Funding has increasing 360 times in 31 years and now stands at 38 million RMB. It is also improving rapidly in quality of output from the top. Ivy League leads the pack, followed by AAU (US) then Russell Group then C9 (China) and RU11 (Russia).

In contrast to Chinese investment in its higher education system, in the US, central government funding for public universities has dropped dramatically over the last decade. Berkeley now receives just 10% of government funding as opposed to a third 12 years ago. The US Government currently spends more on its prison system than on public higher education, and student loan debt is now the second highest debt in the US, just below mortgage debt. The average student in the US owes $34,000 in student loans, which raises the question of whether the US can afford its universities?

John concluded his talk by announcing the imminent release of THE's new rankings on teaching quality and student engagement in Europe, launched within the next two weeks. He is keen to hear feedback from delegates on how this can be improved going forward and what academics would like to see included in the rankings.

There were several questions from the audience including the subject of gender balance in university rankings, scholarship of teaching and learning and the marketisation of higher education – as well as next steps for government policy for tuition fees for UK universities. John wrapped up  the session by emphasising that he still believes that in a post-Brexit world, universities “are a crown jewel for the UK”.

“Our strength is on being a network integrated international system," he said. "THE will hammer home that this has a real impact on UK’s comparative performance in terms of world rankings. Around the world government invest in ranking systems to push their universities up the ranking system. I’m confident that UK universities will continue to be strong and be a centrepiece for the UK.”

Commenting on the Advance HE conference, John said: “It's more important than ever that colleagues from across not only UK universities, but higher education institutions around the world gather to share their experiences and expertise in what is a rapidly changing operating environment. The AdvanceHE conference is a great example of what happens when people come together in this way - the inspiration passed on, the networks forged and the ideas and understanding that will undoubtedly improve outcomes for students.”

The three-day conference includes more than 300 sessions, including keynotes from Professor Christine Jarvis, Pro Vice- Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), University of Huddersfield, on Growing Global Graduates: Teaching for a better world, and Shai Reshef, President, University of the People speaking about The Education Revolution: How online learning will solve the future of higher education.

All the presentations from this year's Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference will be available on the HEA website shortly.

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