I’m starting 2021 with a sense of optimism. 2020 was a year like no other, delivering challenge and change – but also sowing seeds of collaboration, which I hope will grow throughout this coming year and beyond. We’ve seen just how much the tertiary education sector can achieve when we pull together. Let’s stick with that approach.
The learning and teaching reimagined initiative is a perfect example of the good that can come from collaboration – a project that gathered research from more than 1,000 representatives from UK universities, creating a report that imagines and plans an exciting, inclusive, tech-enabled future. This March, many of these ideas will be explored by sector experts and leaders at Jisc’s digital event, Digifest 2021.
Blended learning for all
From lecturer to learner, the view from the UK ‘frontline’ is that the future for UK universities is blended, taking place both online and in-person. This must help all learners – and the learning and teaching reimagined report, encouragingly, found that 78% of lecturers believe online education breaks down geographic barriers to learning. Less positively, 53% of staff believed disadvantaged students will find this approach harder. We can’t afford to widen the gap between the digital haves and the digital have-nots; we must put students at the heart of technology-enabled teaching, with collaboration between institutions, and support from government.
“It’s vital that we redefine universities’ purpose in this brave new world, ensuring learners can access a range of flexible options for learning throughout life”
Looking to the future
Employers are part of this conversation, too. Students are increasingly focused on the value of their education in terms of their future earning potential and the relevance of their studies. At the same time, workplaces are digitising – and COVID-19 has fast-tracked demand for the skills required by tech-enhanced jobs. The education sector is evolving in line, and government reforms may soon deliver a high-quality, more flexible system of higher technical education. It’s vital that we redefine universities’ purpose in this brave new world, ensuring learners can access a range of flexible options for learning throughout life.
Leading the way with artificial intelligence
At Jisc, we have a vision called Education 4.0, which embraces the full potential of advanced technologies to drive personalised learning, support wellbeing, modernise assessment, and harmonise the digital and physical campus. In the new year, I feel it’s time to prioritise artificial intelligence (AI). The arguments are clear; while our national GDP (gross domestic product) is predicted to grow by 10.3% by 2030 due to AI, the UK lags behind in the global pecking order of AI in education. It’s China that leads the way. To ensure the UK keeps and extends its reputation as an international destination for HE, tech could be the golden ticket.
This requires investment, and supports Jisc’s ambition for a new national centre for AI in tertiary education, bringing together technology providers, sector bodies and education institutions. This aspires to deliver real AI solutions at 60 colleges and 30 universities within five years, growing the tertiary education sector by £365m. Together, we can lead the way in delivering the education model of the future, from personalised learning to exam-free assessment.
As we embark on 2021, invigorated with a drive to engage students and deliver future-proofed skills, let’s seize the moment to look ahead with optimism. If we involve students, work collaboratively, and invest wisely, we will promote and extend the UK education sector’s status as a global leader.
Registrations are now open for Jisc’s flagship four-day digital event, Digifest 2021, visit: jisc.ac.uk/events/digifest-08-mar-2021/tickets to find out more.
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