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OfS views on potential threats & opportunities to the HE Sector

by Frank Toop MBE | May 20, 2019 | Governance & Policy

Skimming the latest OfS Board papers for March, I came across a report from their Horizon Scanning Panel discussion of potential threats and opportunities to the Sector.

My recent blog talked about Councils striking the right balance between time spent on strategy including horizon planning, and time spent on compliance/regulation. The OfS Board report may be useful for Council members but as they are unlikely to see the report, it may worth drawing attention to it here.

The aim of the Panel is “to look to the future over the 5-10-year horizon and anticipate and consider trends that will affect students, the sector and the OfS, with a view to recommending practical action wherever possible”.

The report states that the “introduction and implementation of our regulatory framework is expected to have a profound effect on the sector over time”. Possible implications include:

  • an increase in new smaller entrants;
  • challenges to the more traditional widely practiced methods of teaching;
  • the creation of more diverse routes to higher education where fair access and success thrives; and
  • potentially (in conjunction with the Post-18 Review) increased provision through further education along with greater consistency in regulation.

Other threats and opportunities discussed included:

Social Trends:

  • a risk that censorship undermines freedom of speech and thought;
  • expectations of higher education providers being the main way of breaking the social mould to improve individuals’ prospects without due regard to other factors;
  • (lack of) awareness of the breadth and depth of what providers do and their impact;
  • changing perceptions of the value of a higher education qualification;
  • high living costs impacting on affordability of studying away from immediate locality.

Global mega trends:

  • demographic changes including falling birth rates, increased longevity, and increasing inequality.

The changing world of work:

  • the nature of work and attitudes towards it continue to change, as do the skill demands of the labour market.

Artificial Intelligence (AI):

  • “If implemented correctly there is the possibility of providers utilising AI to contribute to making high quality education available to all through technological innovations and machine learning”.

There is a section entitled “A brilliant sector” which states,“UK providers have a strong track record and continue to foster innovative provision, and this translates to a powerful international brand. It will be important to consolidate this and maintain the standards of education that have been reached”.

It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall during this discussion, as maintaining that position must be on every Council’s agenda given the multiple threats being experienced – often as a result of government actions e.g., student visas, EU research funding and Brexit generally. .

The other element I found interesting was the use of the language of risk – threats and opportunities – and it may be worth considering how horizon scanning better connects to the University risk processes. A topic for another day. Meanwhile the OfS list should be a useful one for Councils to consider alongside their own.

Frank Toop is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin – a management consultancy specialising in governance for the higher education sector.