A study by EDHEC Business School has uncovered the student perspective what the future of higher education (HE) should look like.
Gathering insights from more than 1,000 UK students, the research touched on topics such as the changing role of teachers and technology, how HE can help to tackle growing social concerns, the impact of COVID-19 and remote learning, the quality of learning programmes and boosting student employability.
Tackling social concerns
Half of the students surveyed by EDHEC feel that HE providers have a responsibility to raise awareness of social inequality, while 45% felt they should emphasise environmental preservation, 39% would like them to shed light on matters of racial inequality and diversity, while 21% felt they should home in on gender inequality.
The majority of student respondents (75%) felt that the HE sector has a duty to ensure enhanced representation of women, with 79% citing the issue in relation to programmes, and 77% mentioning it in relation to teaching staff.
As part of the survey, researchers asked students what they considered to be the three main strengths of the UK HE sector. In order of importance, students listed the diversity of course offered (57%), the quality of teaching (55%) and the system’s ability to welcome students from all social backgrounds as the key perks.
Students also identified course quality as the main contributor to the sector’s success (55%), followed by employment opportunities (44%), services for students (37%), and accessibility for as many students as possible (36%).
Saying that, there’s always room for improvement, and 75% of respondents feel that UK HE is in need of transformation, with 30% describing this need as ‘indispensable’.
Employability and entrepreneurship
Students are still focused on how higher education can pave the route to sought-after jobs, with 51% of respondents listing teamwork as the most important skill HE should encourage in student to boost employability, while 47% said analytical skills and 45% named creativity. Eighty-five percent were also positive that higher education develops valuable entrepreneurship skills in graduates.
COVID-19 and remote learning
There’s no doubt that this has been a metamorphic year for both the HE sector and the world at large. In light of this, 62% of students think the pandemic will accelerate teaching programmes around healthcare and 51% around social economies, according to the report.
Eighty percent of respondents also felt that the quality of remote provision will improve following the outbreak, but 63% firmly believe that some form of on-campus presence will still be needed in the future.
The evolving role of teaching staff
According to the report, more than half (51%) of students feel that the fundamental role of teachers moving forward will be to instil the skills and knowledge needed to support self-learning via new and established technologies. This supports Promethean’s recent research findings, in which 86% of teachers agreed that technology should be central to the learning process.
On top of this, 42% of student respondents felt that soon, knowledge will largely be imparted through the autonomous use of computers, tablets or smartphones, while 16% predict that artificial intelligence (AI) will become the primary means by which information is shared.
In recent years, more and more reports have alluded to the loss of the ‘human’ element of teaching, with the Office for National Statistics (OfS) stating that around around 1.5 million jobs in England alone are at risk of some form of automation in the future. According to the EDHEC study, however, teachers of tomorrow will be valued more because of their ‘human’ qualities, with 50% of respondents claiming that the main role of teachers will be to encourage the acquisition of soft skills – including such traits as communication, leadership, critical thinking and more.
Technology’s changing influence
The ongoing response to COVID-19 has elevated the prominence of technology at every education level. In line with this, the report revealed that an overwhelming majority (92%) of students feel that emerging technologies and digitisation will transform the higher education experience for younger generations.
Additionally, 75% believe that new technologies will broaden access to HE, while 81% agree that digital innovation will erase discrepancies in education systems across geographical boundaries.
In terms of teaching practice, 93% of students think that new technologies will transform teaching methods, particularly when it comes to offloading routine tasks, freeing up teachers’ time so they can dedicate more to providing one-to-one student support (78%).
On top of this, tech’s capability for personalising content has led 84% of respondents to believe that emerging solutions and devices will help customise the learning experience by enhancing professors’/lecturers’ knowledge of their students.
Emmanuel Metais, dean of EDHEC Business School, commented: “Overall, the findings point to a markedly different higher education system in the future, driven mostly by technology and innovation. This digital transformation will have a particular impact in opening up access to education and also on standardising it, by helping to erase differences in educational models across different countries. Moreover, the vast majority of students also believe that teaching methods will dramatically change, as technology helps teachers to offload routine tasks and focus more on their students. And finally, there is a clear view that new technologies should be used to develop a sense of self-reliance among students, with the primary role of teachers being about teaching the right methods for self-learning via new technologies.”
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