“The idea that you will be able at 18 to study something and three years later you’ll have everything you need to take you through until you’re 75 is fanciful. If it ever were true it’s certainly not true now.”
This view was expressed by Professor Kathy Armour (Pro-VC Education from the University of Birmingham) at a recent higher education roundtable event. The point is beautifully made and one that I wish schools and universities were better able to support. Given that a current 18-year-old will likely need to reinvent their professional selves at least 3 or 4 times during their working lifetime, education shouldn’t be a one-time opportunity.
It feels like it is too readily accepted amongst sector colleagues that the fall in population of UK 18-year olds and the relatively high participation rate over the last few years will mean that the ‘mature market’ for higher education will continue to decline for some time yet. After all, if everyone who wants a degree has managed to earn it before they are 25, then the over 25s market is effectively eradicated.
But this feels short-sighted to me. It assumes that education – and especially a degree – is a one-time purchase and only a minority will later study for a post-graduate or post-experience qualification. From the many conversations I’ve had with MBA candidates in my time at a business school, it was clear to me that they all had one thing in common – they all had a perceived ‘gap’. They all felt that they were missing something; a skill, a piece of knowledge (or sometimes, just the graduation certificate), that was stopping them from accessing their next promotion or career move. I suspect lots more people also feel that they have a ‘gap’, but don’t always find the right sort of opportunity to fill it. And as the length of our working lives becomes longer and longer, and almost all of us will need to adapt with new skills, there will be even more who have a limited set of options open to them.
At Halpin, we’re currently seeing a number of universities reviewing their course portfolios, wanting to ensure they have the right provision in place to take them through the coming upsurge in the population of 18-year olds. Of course, the first step in any portfolio or curriculum review is to match their resources, market position and strengths with the needs of their target market. But we are also working with our clients to challenge them to think ahead to the future needs of their graduates. What will they need not just in 5 years’ time, but 10 or 20 years?
It’s encouraging to see this growing recognition that transferable skills like critical thinking are needed – including by Quintin McKellar, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire in the Guardian last week – so that graduates can keep up with the fast pace of change in the workplace. Hopefully this will also lead to wider discussions on making sure higher education provision gives graduates the skills they need for a sustainable working life over decades to come – and yes, even the opportunity to ‘reinvent’ themselves as needed.
If you’d like a conversation about how Halpin can help you to review your course portfolio or marketing strategy, email us at [email protected]