In the wake of a downturn in university enrollments, the credit crunch, and the rise of distance study and home learning, much has been written recently of the future of higher education. Interestingly, there is a diversity of individuals representing many differing opinions within the education sector who have quite different ideas of what exactly the future holds for UK HE students. So can all of these ideas be realized in one place?
In an article by Iain Laing at nebusiness.co.uk, he explores the importance of teaching the “workforce of tomorrow” the skills of business and entrepreneurship. These are the opinions expressed by Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, who stresses that we need ‘to create business-ready graduates with entrepreneurial skills’. However, where we once may have thought that such propositions would result in an increase in the range and accessibility of business and entrepreneurship courses (which would no doubt be great), this should really only be the beginning.
In a report, which received contributions by Bilimoria and Allan Gibb (formerly of Durham Business School) it seems that entrepreneurship needs to be included in every single subject in a move that will be considered ‘a systematic overhaul of academic disciplines’. “The UK needs to be able to retain talented graduates, not just produce them,” Laing says.
In an interview in trainingzone.co.uk, education author George Siemens highlights that even before the term “Web 2.0” (meaning web tools such as social networking sites and blogs etc) there was already a ‘changing relationship between our faculty members and the learners…we found that once the students had access to resources online the framework we (the teachers) had created for them to learn in was less critical.’ It seems that growing incorporation of Web 2.0 technology is seeing a power shift between lecturer and student, where the student now has more governance over their own education – a benefit that has been fully realized by the increasing numbers of learners studying online when and where they want to.
Flexibility is the key here, and this is an idea that was echoed as many highly regarded educators prepared for The Brighton Conference this month. In reference to design education (one of the most popular subjects at today’s universities), Professor Jonathan Woodham argues, ‘I think, in general, design education does not prepare students well. The key thing is to encourage flexibility in imagination – does the higher education curriculum encourage the development of flexibility and skills, or does it just stick within rigid disciplinary frameworks?’
Alongside the obligatory relationship with Web 2.0, flexibility is also naturally inherent to distance learning, and is fast becoming one of its biggest pros. Similarly, e-learning has long been a hotbed for courses in entrepreneurship and business due to the rising need for adult learners who want to increase their employability at the same time as continuing with their current jobs. Do all these people actually want the same thing?