In this first post of 2019, we review a few of the most visible societal trends and point to its potential impact on higher education organizations. Undoubtedly, times are changing fast. Nevertheless, and despite abundant alarming signs, many higher education institutions seem to be passively watching events unfold from their ivory towers, with a mix of arrogance and complacency. Many small private colleges, particularly those with subscale size, significant reliance on tuition fees, high fixed costs and an undifferentiated value proposition will likely continue to struggle, and many more will shut down due to financial pressures and lack of foresight.
Drawing on recent reports from the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum, these are some of the most important developments to keep an eye (and act) on:
Shift in global power. The world continues to move into a multipolar era, with the US ceding the main stage to other nations that are jockeying for regional and global predominance. The EU, China, Russia, Japan and India, among others, are weighty political and economic actors in a fluid situation where allies and foes alike are constantly maneuvering to defend their own national interests. With the axis of economic dynamics continually moving East, Western universities will find in Asia new opportunities for increasing student enrollments, expanding research endeavors and forging partnerships with industries.
If your institution doesn’t have a plan yet, it’s time to develop an internationalization strategy that is coherent with your mission, vision and values. Such strategy could start by identifying new geographies, markets and clients to be served through current program offerings. Venturing into new markets could be done individually, but a consortium approach has proven to be less risky and more efficient/effective for many institutions.
Rising inequity, citizenship and democracy. The current situation of increasing uneven wealth distribution is leading to disappointment, unrest and the rise of populisms in many countries. It seems timely to remember that higher education has had and will continue to have a fundamental role in helping shape the character and functioning our social structures. While universities can continue to deliver training and skills development for the 21st century economy, more importantly they need to recover their standing as moral pillars for society. Asides from enabling the professional and technical competency if its graduates, colleges and universities should also be instilling in them the civic consciousness and ethical/socially responsible behavior necessary to ensure a more livable future for all. Universities could also be at the forefront of proposing reforms to existing social and political institutions that are essential for peaceful democratic coexistence, so that they better serve in the pursuit of more equitable societies and the common good.
A technologically advanced but less secure world. The world’s reliance on emerging technologies will accelerate. Governments and private organizations are entering un unprecedented era—the 4th Industrial Revolution-where the fusion of disruptive technologies like AI, IoT, VR, AR will definitely blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. As the stakes grow higher, cyber threats will continue to be on the rise and institutions will need to invest in implementing safeguards for the protection and integrity of their data, operations and processes. All institutions, regardless of their size and nature, will have to comply with strict stipulations (e.g. EU’s GDPR) for data collection, processing, and use. As a high priority issue, data security will require continued monitoring and investment.
Aging societies and new customer segments. Increasing prosperity along with longer life expectancy, may represent an opportunity for higher education institutions. Many universities could broaden the scope their traditional marketing directed at young adults to attract also senior adults and offer them lifelong learning opportunities. Existing programs could be unbundled to create new learning paths and offer older adults rewarding avenues for personal and intellectual growth. The good news is that this older population is wiser and has a clearer conscience of that it wants and values; institutions need only to listen attentively to such potential clients and act to serve their needs. Furthermore, there is an opportunity for universities to tap into a sizeable talent pool of experienced adults to forge richer learning models (ala MIT learning circles) where instructors and learners collaborate as peers in pursuit of their mutual development. These learning communities could run both physical and virtually harnessing the power and ubiquity of modern ICT.
The paradox of people being more interconnected and belonging to several networks, but feeling isolated. Very few historical strongholds--churches, schools and townships--remain fully relevant to today’s citizens. Can higher ed institutions emerge as societal nodes for connecting people more closely and adding to their sense of belonging and purpose? The answer is probably yes. How? Opportunities could range from adapting current underutilized campuses and facilities for co-housing to providing a host of communal services following an association-like membership model. Amazing and unrepeatable facilities –libraries, dorms, athletic centers, auditoriums, etc.--could be repurposed and made available to more people via sharing mechanisms like Airbnb. This could optimize its usage and bring additional revenues.
Bottom line: How aware are you of the potential impact of these trends on your institution? What are you doing to mitigate the risks and take advantage of emerging opportunities for solidifying your institution’s future? At GRG Education, we’d love to help. Contact us.