Higher Education in 2025

On November 3rd Frances Bell and I will be at Southampton University’s ILIaD Inaugural Conference. Here is the programme and this is the information about the conference provided by the University.

The University of Southampton’s Vision 2020 states that over the next few years we will “revolutionise education”.  The new Institute for Learning Innovation and Development (ILIaD) has been created to lead on this ambition and help shape the University’s future educational approach. But what would this look like? What will we need to do to make this happen? Will students be happy with the changes? How will research shape our educational offer?

The ILIaD inaugural conference will give staff, students and external participants the opportunity to answer these questions and showcase and celebrate educational innovations. It will provide participants with the opportunity to discover the many ways to engage with ILIaD, and to network with others interested in educational innovation.

As part of this day Frances and I will give a short presentation in which we hope to stimulate thinking about some aspects of the Future of Higher Education. For this presentation we have drawn on recent reports on the topic and in particular on an article by Bryan Alexander (2014) in which he suggests discussing a variety of possible scenarios to support thinking about the future of Higher Education.

Frances and I will each present a short scenario and then open the floor for discussion.

For Frances’ scenario see her blog post – An Interactive Exploration of the Near Future i Educational Technologies.

The wonderful Fiona Harvey, who we met at an ALTMOOCSIG event at UCL earlier in the year, will support the discussion by graphically recording comments and feedback. For my scenario I will ask participants to imagine themselves as middle-aged academics in 2025. Here is a video that I have created to present the scenario.

Scenario Transcript – Jenny’s scenario 291014 (With many thanks to Mariana Funes for her helpful feedback on this video)

In creating this scenario, I drew on Bryan Alexander’s article (2014) and the reports listed in the references below, which I very briefly summarized for myself as follows. It goes without saying that there could be many alternative scenarios.

The Purpose of Education

Higher education is a great national asset. Its contribution to the economic and social well being of the nation is of vital importance. Its research pushes back the frontiers of human knowledge and is the foundation of human progress. Its teaching educates and skills the nation for a knowledge-dominated age. It gives graduates both personal and intellectual fulfillment. Working with business, it powers the economy, and its graduates are crucial to the public services. And wide access to higher education makes for a more enlightened and socially just society.

(“The Future of Higher Education,” January 2003, In: Alexander, B. (2010). The Future of Higher Education : Beyond the Campus. EDUCAUSE Review® Online – January).

This quote from a government white paper was written in 2003, more than 10 years ago, yet is still relevant – or is it?

Is Higher Education a great national asset? Is its contribution to the economic and social well-being of the nation of vital importance?

In his 2010 paper Bryan Alexander wrote that the purpose of education is to educate people for success in life; in their workplace, their communities and their personal lives. This purpose is increasingly challenged by high rates of youth unemployment, an ageing population and increasing social conflict around the world.

The Ivory Tower

Academics have long held a privileged position in society which has granted them academic freedom and academic identity, through the high esteem in which research has been held and the way in which research has been published and disseminated. Despite moves to make research and the research process more ‘open’, it remains slow to publish and disseminate, held up by ethics committees and peer review procedures which are in need of urgent change. In current times, with the fast pace of change, research findings can be obsolete before they are even published. Similarly slow Higher Education accreditation procedures stifle curriculum innovation.

Current Trends in Higher Education

Higher Education is assailed by change on all sides.

The Institution

Rising costs and decreasing resources have led to institutions seeking new business models in a search for improved efficiency and productivity. Economic social forces and sustainability are increasingly recognized as drivers of change. There is similarly a recognised need for greater diversity of educational provision and a move towards openness, transparency and collaboration. Innovation and entrepreneurship are seen to be essential to meet the demands of an expanding global market and growing student numbers.


The use of digital data is changing scholarly practices. Research is more conversational and out in the open, e.g. on blogs and is being crowd sourced. There is an ever increasing number of open journals, and open peer review has also been explored.

Teaching and Learning

The boundaries around HE institutions are becoming more permeable and modes of teaching and learning more flexible, with more online or blended learning provision. Students coming into HE have grown up in a connected, networked world with limitless access to open resources. In response, teaching is more and more focusing on the use of social media for interaction and problem solving. Classrooms are becoming multi-media learning spaces, which emphasise creativity and project-based work, digital storytelling, gaming and mobile learning. From the teachers’ perspective, increased work online results in more visible data and related accountability. The same can be said for the institution itself.


Technological advances continue apace and include: new hardware and software, ubiquitous computing, tablets, mobile learning devices, cloud computing and 3D printing. Gaming is increasingly being used for teaching and learning, as are augmented reality and sensor technologies. Collaboration tools and the use of OERs are becoming commonplace and big data analysis is receiving increasing interest and funding. Identity management and the development of personal learning networks (PLNs) is also a focus of attention.

Ways forward

There is increasing pressure on the Ivory Tower to innovate through:

  • interdisciplinary research and innovation
  • international collaboration and mobilizing collective intelligence
  • designing new business models which focus on students and innovative teaching and learning
  • cross institutional alliances and collaborative entrepreneurship.

Innovation and scenario planning are therefore essential.


Alexander, B. (2010). The Future of Higher Education : Beyond the Campus. EDUCAUSE Review® Online (ISSN 1945-709X), (January).

Alexander, B. (2014). Higher Education in 2024: Glimpsing the Future. EDUCAUSE Review® Online (ISSN 1945-709X). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/higher-education-2024-glimpsing-future

Blass, E., & Hayward, P. (2014). Innovation in higher education; will there be a role for “the academe/university” in 2025? European Journal of Futures Research, 2(1), 41

Brennan, J., Ryan, S., Ranga, M., Broek, S., Durazzi, N., & Kamphuis, B. (2014). Study on innovation in higher education : final report Study on Innovation in Higher Education Executive Summary.

Downes, S. (2014). Beyond Institutions – Personal Learning in a Networked World. Seminar presentation delivered to Network EDFE Seminar Series, London School of Economics. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/343

Johnson, L., Becker, S. A., & Cummins, M. (2013). Horizon report: 2013 higher education edition. Retrieved from http://hdl.voced.edu.au/10707/284916

See also the work of the University of Northampton which I wrote about in my last post: Shaping the Future of Higher Education – standing still is not an option

4 thoughts on “Higher Education in 2025

  1. sensor63 November 1, 2014 / 9:50 am

    Hi Jenny! Thanks for this story. I can see much of what is in this video and blog post being a reality already.

    However, the one thing which concerns me in all of this – and in my work at present is the economics of it.

    Fundîng of some sort or other is of essence to keep the wolf from the door.
    What is your experience/take on that?



  2. jennymackness November 1, 2014 / 3:58 pm

    Hi Simon – thanks for your comment and question. I will be interested to see for how many people much of what is in the video is already a reality. Like you, it seemed to me as though it should be, and it certainly will be for some, but I wonder whether we can assume that it is for the majority. Articles that I have read comment on how slow Universities are to change and that they are behind changes that we are already seeing in society at large. One article that I recently read, saw this as a good thing, i.e. it’s the University’s role to keep things grounded, but I can’t imagine any University that doesn’t keep abreast with change is going to survive.

    I agree with you about the economics of it and again I wonder what sort of response we will get at the conference. My thinking was that as the older population wants to continue working until much later – and I think we already have evidence of this – then it’s going to get very expensive for Universities – and I know from past experience that institutions that are having difficulty making ends meet, often try and get rid of expensive staff first. That would throw a lot of experienced staff out into a competitive free-lance environment. I have been free-lance for about 9 years and pretty much all my work has come via reputation and word of mouth. I think if I was still working in 10 years time I would need to be much more proficient at marketing myself.

    If we get any interesting responses at the conference, I will try and blog again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s