Top higher education trends for 2014

Top higher education trends for 2014

As the year draws to a close, there is a tendency to look back at what happened over the past 12 months and reflect on the year’s achievements. What about the future? Can developments in the past be used to predict what will happen in the years to come? There is no crystal ball that provides effective insights into future developments. However, I’ve come up with five key areas which I believe will have a big impact on international higher education in 2014.

1)    Corporate social responsibility and internationalisation

For many private businesses and non-profit organisations, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is  becoming common practice. The customer expects that organisations take care of the environment and of the social impact of doing business. Just like internationalisation, corporate social responsibility can be described as a continuing process. It is a process with the aim to make companies embrace responsibility for all their actions and not only focus on profit making. The aim is also to encourage a positive impact through companies’ activities on the environment and all stakeholders. Although the term CSR became popular in the 1960s, it is only in the last decade or so that corporations have started to really embrace and act according to CSR principles. Certainly issues like climate change, the impact on the environment and the increasing demands of the customer have had an influence on the rise of CSR in the daily practice of organisations around the world.

An increasing number of institutions of higher education are now embracing CSR as part of their strategy and increasingly these developments are being linked and intertwined with the internationalisation strategy of the institution. Not only are institutions educating students in an intercultural and international environment, they are also educating students to become socially responsible actors after graduation. I believe that this development will go hand in hand with the ‘global citizen’ discussion. Higher education institutions will be looking more at the outcome of their education: What kind of socially and globally responsible and innovative graduates do we deliver to society?

2)    Impact of technology

It is easy to say that 2013 was the year of the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and of the increased interest in Open Education Resources for higher education institutions. Some would also argue that MOOCs are nothing new. No new technology or methodology is required – many Open Universities have been delivering online education already for many decades. I think that the hype surrounding MOOCs will start to slow down and the current hype will become a catalyst for institutions, encouraging them to focus on ways to ingrain technology into the regular classroom delivery. Institutions will need to start exploring more styles of ‘embedded education’.

3)    Ranking fatigue

At the end of this year, a debate started in the Netherlands on was what called “slow science”. An increasing number of researchers have doubts with the publication race and the increased involvement and ‘for-profit’ interest of journals. Randy Schekman, the biologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology this year, said his lab would no longer send research papers to the top-tier journals because “leading academic journals are distorting the scientific process and represent a ‘tyranny’ that must be broken”.

It seems that everything should be ranked: research and education in general and all aspects surrounding them. Now that even cities are ranked, could the next ranking be on the most beautiful medieval campus building? Or the most accessible campus? Have we ever asked ourselves what ranking brings to social engagement? Do we need to start ranking institutions’ engagement in CSR? Or does involvement in CSR actually imply that you should not rank on CSR at all? I sense some cracks in the Babel Tower of Rankings; more and more researchers and leaders of institutions see that rankings are in the best interests of research of the institution.

4)    The rise of Africa

We already have the BRICS, which includes South Africa and some have added another acronym: MINT, meaning Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. According to all kinds of data on technology, economic growth, articles in The Economist and other media, Africa is on the rise, in many aspects and facets. Whereas in the past, all higher education institutions in the West were going to China and other countries in Asia and Latin America, the next step is increased cooperation with African countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenia, Botswana and Mozambique. The demand for higher education in Africa is increasing and African countries offer a wealth of human and natural resources.

5)    Complexity of knowledge

In 2013 we saw the scandals of the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US. The use of new technology and transfer of messages is scanned with the same new technology. We can download all kind of apps on our mobile devices, but most of these apps are for games and getting superfluous information. Where are the apps that open up research to all? Which apps bring education to those in need of it? We all complain about the unavailability of proper data on mobility worldwide, so apparently technology is not yet developed enough to bring us what we really need to run our business more efficiently and effectively. With increasing numbers of newsletters, websites and devices, more data and information is provided to us all, but we tend to know less and sometimes it is difficult to decipher its credibility. We do know what we know, we know to some extent what we do not know, yet there is probably much more we do not know that what we do not know at all! And therefore, this reflection on developments in 2014 is merely an intelligent guess.

What do you think will be the greatest change to higher education in 2014? Share your thoughts below!

Hans-Georg van Liempd
Tilburg University, the NetherlandsHans-Georg is Managing Director at the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and is also former President of the EAIE.