Matt Beveridge, estates innovation manager at the University of Birmingham, shares his vision for the future of higher education as part of learning and teaching reimagined.
Where we are now
Universities are by their very nature complex.
First and foremost, they are educational institutions, where undergraduate and postgraduate students learn and where faculty teach and conduct research.
In addition, they function as small cities, complete with facilities teams, energy plants, sports facilities, and other civic attractions.
Finally, they are major local employers and act as an important catalyst within local and regional economies.
These unique characteristics mean that universities have a large number of stakeholders with which to communicate, and often have highly complex revenue models.
Due to this complexity, universities are uniquely and acutely impacted by the current pandemic, the response to which poses significant challenge.
Before Covid-19 struck, the higher education sector was already undergoing significant change. Concerns over funding and revenue, increased competition and globalisation were all factors influencing university strategies.
The Covid-19 pandemic has further emphasised and accelerated the pace at which universities need to adapt in the fast-changing higher education market.
As universities, schools and colleges closed across the world in 2020, researchers, teachers and students scrambled to adopt a whole host of new pedagogical tools, communication techniques, learning methods and teaching styles almost overnight.
For some faculties, the adjustment was seamless, with lectures and projects conducted online with little or no change at all. Others understandably struggled with having to relinquish the physical, peer-to-peer learning environment of the classroom, the dynamic interaction of the campus, or the personal contact of the seminar debate.
As we plan for a post-Covid-19 future, it is important that we find the right balance between stabilising core operations, and pioneering new ways of enabling physical and digital interactions.
To transition, with sustainability in mind, from a method of ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’, this means radically rethinking the way our universities operate, the service we provide, and the overall experience for our students, academics and visitors.
The future landscape
Learning from the experiences of the pandemic
Post-Covid-19 will see the true advent of the ‘Clicks and Mortar’ campus; one that embraces digital and remote working and learning, and more sustainable transport options.
Short-term physical space will be at a premium, as will the digital tools that help us work both individually and collaboratively.
Long-term strict social distancing measures could result in physical space being severely under-utilised, presenting new challenges around operational efficiency and carbon reduction.
Universities will need to use the experience and evidence generated during the campus’s restricted mode of operation to capture success stories and lessons learned when developing the format of the post-pandemic and future state university campus.
By 2026, students enrolling in to Higher Education will be younger than the smartphone. These are students that have only ever lived with technology and the constant connectivity it brings.
They have grown accustomed to a frictionless experience; one that is personalised, immediate, efficient, reliable, responsive, and at their fingertips. They will want this quality of experience from their universities.
Staff and academics will be empowered to choose the most effective location and workspace for the task at hand, balancing this with the needs of the institution and the relevant teams.
Universities will need to trust their people to deliver, regardless of location, and stay in regular contact to thrive in this new environment, focusing on outputs and delivery.
Staff will be mindful to avoid an ‘always on’ culture, and flexibility will be the default position, leading to an improved work-life balance for staff, as well as delivering greater productivity and efficiency for the institution.
This future landscape raises an important question for our academics, staff and the university as a whole; how will we adapt to meet these expectations?
And therein lies the challenge, and the need for us to enlarge the notion of ‘innovation’ within the education community.
Perhaps we should all consider exploring the true potential of designing and delivering an intelligent campus together with other forward thinking initiatives such as learner analytics.
Either way, Covid-19 is accelerating some trends that were already happening, but what we all have to realise is that these changes will not be temporary.
One thing is for certain; Covid-19 will have a lasting impact.
Those that adapt quickly, will emerge stronger.
More discussion on the future of higher education and the steps to get there, take a look at learning and teaching reimagined.
This article was inspired by: Jisc’s Vision for an Intelligent Campus; and also the celebrated journalist Thomas L. Friedman with Thank you for being late: an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations; a book filled with insightful commentary, focusing on the three transformational movements reshaping our world – technology, globalisation and climate change.
Co-authored by a team of Innovators at the University of Birmingham, supported by PTS Consulting.