A case for embracing radical life-long learning

Here at TVE we periodically encourage our clients to consider if the worst possible thing that could happen to their business or industry happened tomorrow, what would they do? We call it Shockwaves. It’s not simply a scenario planning tool for exploring if they would be ready, but an alternative lens to assessing where they stand today and what choices they really should be making.

An industry we’ve always got our eye on thanks to projects like the creation of new university TEDI is the higher education system, and the current scene for UK universities and other higher education providers is particularly troubling. Years of fixed fees against a backdrop of high inflation means that funding is set to drop to its lowest level in real terms since the 1990s. Coupled with the threat of political immigration targets reducing international students, the reliance on international student fees looks increasingly uncertain.

Over the pond it’s not much brighter with increasing numbers of Americans convinced that a college education in 2023 just isn’t worth it (despite graduate earning data that proves contrary). So what are higher education providers to do? If their shockwave has become reality, how do they create change?

Proposition & Purpose

Putting to one side politics and the current funding system, universities do have options, but they need to be bold. A university education has always straddled two purposes – one being the academic pursuit and love of learning, the other being the career enhancement opportunity. Whilst secondary schools invariably pursue the former, there’s increasingly loud calls for education to be more practical, equipped kids with the skills to be functioning adults. In doing so, university degrees become more transactional and functional, it’s an investment that pays back in higher salaries. It’s something that’s measured in not just student satisfaction but in rate of return. Universities need to be mindful of this, to balance the complexity rather than necessarily prioritising one over the other.

Growth & Target Audience

Beyond figuring out what they stand for, there are several avenues to growth. Truly championing lifelong learning, widening their target audience and offering greater flexibility opens doors to many more potential students, without necessarily cannibalising their existing course offering. University as a concept needs a rebrand.

To date most universities are seen as places for 18–30-year-olds – with 18 being a crucial now or never moment. But universities should cater for a much broader target audience than this; higher education shouldn’t be an opportunity that expires and not everyone is ready to make that decision in the early 20s, nor best placed to capitalise on it.

The exception to this being the Open University, who have long championed learning opportunities for anyone, regardless of their age, circumstance or background. There are encouraging signs that more institutions are slowly following their lead, be that willingly or begrudgingly as the pandemic forcibly accelerated the adoption of online learning models. The advent of more part-time, online and remote learning options meaning that more students, employees and employers are embracing a desire to combine learning & working in a more flexible way; which, crucially, higher education providers are finally offering. University is increasingly something that you do rather than a place you need to be.

Innovation & Future-Proofing

And in the corporate world there’s demand for more integrated working & learning, rather than delineated career breaks for studying. The University of California’s Business school has recently launched a new blended evening and weekend MBA programme… and it’s already over-subscribed. Recognising that Millennials and Gen-Z’s will have more changes in the career than previous generations, there’s also a job to be done in supporting re-training, re-skilling and career transformations. As industries evolve, especially with the arrival of generative AI technologies, more and more people will need to retrain and pivot, and higher education providers have the potential to support this transition.

There’s a myriad of opportunities for universities to consider. Now is the time to embrace a radically different way of operating an education system that’s ready for the world today and sets up society for the world of tomorrow.

By: Caroline Camm

Comments are closed