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The Future of Universities: Three questions for Louis Coiffait

Three questions for Louis Coiffait, Head of Research for the Pearson Think Tank

Published in June 2013

What’s next for universities? With the sector diversifying into online learning, not to mention the many varied opportunities offered by further and higher education colleges, it’s become harder to say what a university will look like in the future. In March 2013, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world. Here, Louis Coiffait is interviewed by Alex Miles.

Arial shot of a man

Alex Miles: Based on this issue of universities in 2025, do you see things being radically different from how they are now in terms of the structure and the demarcation between the experiential side of things, going onto a physical campus, and the virtual, which is the MOOCs trend so to speak?

Louis Coiffait: I always struggle with this question. My editorial for the last Blue Skies, had the title Revolution or Evolution? and I struggle to know actually how fast change will happen. I think that in 12 years time some institutions and some aspects of higher education (HE) will have seen a revolution but some will be exactly the same. You will still walk into Magdalene College quad; it’ll still have the nice, green grass which you’re not allowed to stand on, and there will still be a lovely old professor who you can spend time with and that’s not going to change. But it’s beyond that kind of stereotypical university experience that I think things will start to get really interesting and you will see some quite different experiences. I think that the blurring of the boundaries with employers is where that potentially could be particularly innovative.

AM: Late last year there was a report from McKinsey, which said that there’s going to be a deficit of skilled jobs to the tune of 85 million in tertiary education – so let’s say that’s undergraduates leading all the way up to a second degree; that’s in the next five years. Taking the global perspective, and most of these graduate-level jobs are going to be in developing BRIC countries, do you think that the UK sector is prepared to respond to this demand and do you think that the UK graduates are going to have to have a complete evaluation to their attitudes towards travel?

LC: I think that in terms of the skills deficit or the gap, I don’t see that getting solved any time soon. A lot of traditional provision doesn’t equip people with what they need to respond in this ever-faster, ever more dynamic kind of workplace and that’s kind of my earlier point about why employers and education providers at university level or otherwise, when they start to interact, that’s when you actually get really good solutions to some of those skills deficits.

In terms of the kind of competitive global picture, I think that the UK is actually very well placed; perhaps we beat ourselves up a little too much; although the volumes coming out of bits of the developing world are amazing, I don’t think that the quality is always there yet. I think they will get there, I think that the British institutions and British students are going to be involved in helping them get there.

It’s certainly not the case that we are the knowledge economy and the thinkers and the rest of world is going to be the workshop “do-ers” but I think that there is a case that Britain and its graduates are going to have to respond and they are going to be involved in that kind of global change, but it might not necessarily mean travel; I think we need to be better global citizens but technologies these days mean you don’t need to leave your house.

AM: From the point of view of higher education, let's say you can give only one recommendation; what would you like the G8 summit to focus on?

LC: I think the free movement of people, particularly, is pretty key, and I think higher education (HE) has got a big part to play in that. I think the immigration policy that we’re seeing in this country is pretty despicable, it’s very short-term, it’s very parochial, and I think it’s very political. Countries such as Australia and Canada have been much more strategic in terms of their international recruitment of students. I think that yes, we need to regulate to some extent to make sure we have legitimate students coming for legitimate courses but the message we’re sending out at the moment is a very negative one. And increasingly, those students from international locations are choosing not only to not come here or to go to somewhere else, but to actually not to leave their region. We’re going to see a massive growth in, for example, people from China studying in Malaysia – that kind of thing – so we really need to sort out our free trade – our free movement of people – and our immigration policies, particularly around higher education.

For more from the Knowledge Centre's Global Universities Summit blog, which focussed on the issues in higher education ahead of the 2013 Global University Summit, please click here.

The Global University Summit 2013 was hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London.

Forward thinking: Image c/o Lewisham Dreamer