Moving forward, universities must be more connected, collaborative and accessible than ever before.
Ten years ago, none of the following existed: the iPhone, Uber, Airbnb, Spotify, Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook and Twitter were in their early stages. The next ten years will undoubtedly be characterised just as much by the rising prominence of technology, if not more.
So, what does the likely direction of the change mean for British universities?
The students who still desire a university experience will rely increasingly on online search engines, online lecture notes and recorded lectures for their information. The growth in online courses, virtual reality and augmented reality will mean that learning will look nothing like it does today.
To ensure universities stay relevant and important, they need to change and reflect on the cultural, pedagogic and lifestyle needs, and the expectations future student and staff have in the era that will see the fourth industrial revolution. Given that, despite their expectations, such a significant number of students doubt that their degree prepares them for the world of work, universities need to recognise this feeling and respond accordingly. Universities must emphasise creating 'work-ready' graduates and prepare today's students for "jobs that do not yet exist, to use technology that hasn’t been created yet".
There are fears that a university degree is becoming less accessible and practical without support. New research from the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) revealed present students say they would like more financial support. When asked what they would like to enhance the student experience, today’s students stated scholarship and grant opportunities (58%). Students from 25 years ago, in an age where maintenance grants were more frequent, opted for well-structured courses (59%).
With a clear appetite for digital learning and an environment where immediacy is the norm; university materials need to be available for students anywhere, at any time and on any device. 24-hour access to facilities (38%) is valued high by today’s students. Digital connectivity is expanding, having improved by 14% over the last 25 years (73% of current students say they have good digital connectivity vs 59% from those 25 years ago).
The 'Student Digital Experience Tracker' survey by Jisc, which heard from more than 22,000 students from 74 UK organisations and 5,000 students from 10 international universities, provides insight. Attitudes towards digital technologies are generally positive, and 70% of HE students agree that when digital technology is used on their course they are more independent in their learning and can fit learning into their lives more easily.
Mike Clark, AUDE's Chair, and Director of Estate & Facilities Management at the University of Brighton said: "We commissioned this survey to help us better understand what it is students want from their university experience and how this has changed over the last two decades. The university estate is evolving and as directors of estates it is our job to make sure we meet the demands of current and future students. Improving 24-hour access and digital connectivity is clearly an area we should be focusing on."
The research clearly highlights the needs of Generation Z and the challenges this brings to the sector. In the same way that technology never stands still and is constantly evolving, education must follow the same example. Only then, will they succeed in educating and empowering future employees to overcome the challenges of tomorrow’s world. Here at Wildfire our expertise in the education sector ensures we’re going to be especially interested to find out what’s going to become of the changing face of the university.