In 2017 Edge published Our Plan for Higher Education, which set out our vision for a sector which is diverse, more employment-focused, and offering more vigorous and visible value for money. These ambitions hold true more than ever, yet four years on the sector is also facing new challenges.
At the beginning of 2021 universities are struggling to offer their students the higher education (HE) experience that they once expected; online or disrupted learning experiences, a loss of social interaction, and in some cases a lack of personal and academic support that students are in much need of. On top of this, ensuring that students are being prepared with suitable transferable skills, rich employer engagements and wider enriching learning experience is also proving challenging.
The pandemic has caused many problems, as well as amplifying existing issues that England’s higher education system already faced. The numbers of young people entering HE has been increasing, and following the turbulence of 2020, there was a further increase in offers and acceptances. This additionally emphasises the importance of high-quality provision so that this cohort do not miss out on the rich student experience their predecessors gained.
At the same time, many students do not believe they are getting value for money from the HE experience; young people are not getting adequate access to up to date and impartial information of wider post-18 opportunities, and incidences of mental health problems are rising to worrying levels. Furthermore, there is a disconnect between what employers say they want from graduates and the skills and capabilities graduates are developing. Beyond this, the modern workplace is rapidly changing and students will need the adaptability, confidence and creativity to be successful in the 21st Century world of work.
As higher education learns to adapt to a world with Covid and beyond, opportunities arise to rethink its curriculum, delivery, and priorities.
This report draws on five HE case studies which offer examples of non-traditional HE provision. Some of the key characteristics include a clear link between theory and practice, external stakeholders meaningfully engaging with teaching staff and students at various levels, emphasis on the development of student employability and where the ‘university campus’ is understood in the broadest sense. All these offer varied and engaging student experiences.