April 17, 2013

The future of UK universities on the global stage: Louis Coiffait, The Pearson Think Tank

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/knowledge/business/gus

Photograph: A moment captured in the British Museum: man stands next to a Tennyson quote engraved in the floor
Forward thinking: Image c/o Lewisham Dreamer

Alex Miles(University of Warwick) speaks to Louis Coiffait, Head of Research for The Pearson Think Tank

AM: 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?

LC: 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: The G8 Summit in June is focusing on free trade. From the point of view of higher education, let's say you can give only one recommendation; what would you like them to commit to?

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.

This blog is part of a regular series on the Knowledge Centre looking at issues in higher education ahead of the Global University Summit (May 28-30 2013), hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London. As part of the GUS, a declaration of commitment and policy recommendations will be drawn up for the G8 summit of world leaders, taking place in Northern Ireland in June.

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