As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke to leading institutions from across Europe to understand their vision for the future, and how they plan to realise these ambitions.
In this selection of interviews, we hear from our contributors about what’s on the horizon for higher education.
These are extended interviews that were conducted as part of the research for our University of the Future whitepaper. Read more from the University of the Future page series or download the whitepaper – What’s driving the vision for the University of the Future? – to explore how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the university of the future.
Jonathan Eaton, Academic Registrar and Mark Simpson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching), Teesside University
How has Teesside University managed during the pandemic?
Mark: We were already a good way along on our digital journey, so while some aspects have been accelerated, it wasn’t quite the shot in the arm digitally as it might have been for many universities.
Our main focus was reaching all of our students and understanding their needs – those who had children at home, for example. We switched to asynchronous delivery in order to offer a more flexible teaching provision.
Engagement levels during lockdown have been higher than expected, and we’re extremely proud of this. We had set a target of students engaging at least once per week and our analysis showed that only 3% weren’t meeting that.
I think some positives will come out of the situation. You could argue that the learner experience will be better in the future. Universities that were behind the curve digitally are catching up. There’s a realisation that the one-hour lecture isn’t necessarily the best way to teach and learn – that’s become hugely evident for lecturers when they’re trying to deliver them while sitting in front of a screen.
What’s your vision for the university of the future?
Jonathan: There will be a continuous move towards future facing learning – focusing on the digital skills of both staff and students. There’s an assumption that Gen Z are digitally savvy but that’s not always the case. We have to improve this if we’re to bridge the skills gap between university and the workplace.
We also need to upskill staff to make use of the technology and data that’s available to them – so they can personalise the experience for each student. Automation will also free tutors up to focus on where they really add the value to students during one to one teaching time, rather than wasting time on back office and admin tasks.
We also see much more of a move towards collaboration and inter-disciplinary study. We ran a project recently, for example, where students from criminology, health and interior design courses worked together on a challenge to reinvigorate an old student accommodation building.
Collaborations like this teach the softer skills of teamwork and planning etc which are essential for graduates when they start their careers.
We also want to build more collaboration between home and international students. The challenge is how to recreate that campus experience online, while building a social element into it too. Technology will also have a part to play here.
How are you working towards that vision?
Mark: While there’s a willingness amongst universities to use technology to move towards their vision of the future, innovation has to happen at a strategic level. There has to be an understanding, right from the top of the institution, of how to deliver future facing learning and the value it will bring to all.
Then you can work towards getting buy-in across the board. We have implemented a huge learning and technology project for staff. This included baseline testing to understand their current level of skills. As part of this we also created a virtual classroom – taking staff outside of their usual traditional classroom environment to help them think in a new way.
You would expect a resistance to mandatory training like this, but we didn’t receive any – staff embraced it as part of their personal development.
Jonathan: We’re also broadening how we measure the progress and attainment of our students. For example, student rating levels used to be measured on attendance, but they’re now also measured on attainment. We’re also improving personalisation on the back of data, looking at how individual students have been engaging, the progress they’re making and where teachers need to intervene and offer additional support.
While tutors can act on this insight themselves, we’re encouraging students to examine their own data, so that everyone sees it as a positive thing. This openness and transparency are vital if we’re to break down any siloes and bring the university together.