What will universities be like in the future?

How will higher ed adapt to the rise of artificial intelligence, online learning, and other factors?

2. National universities
These will attract primarily national and regional students and staff, and will be engaged heavily in research, though the focus will be more upon undergraduate and postgraduate teaching than in the global institutions. They will nevertheless have significant numbers of doctoral students. National universities will scoop up the bulk of the research funding within each country and work closely with their governments in solving problems of mutual interest. They will be predominantly residential.

3. Regional universities
These universities will play very significant roles in the economic, cultural, and social life of their respective counties, states, and regions, working closely with those tiers of government and with businesses and other organizations of influence in the area. They will conduct research, to a more limited scale than for global and national universities, and the focus will be more heavily on teaching and learning. Many students will live at home.

4. Professional universities
These will make no attempt to offer anything other than training to achieve the qualifications required by the professions and services, among them law, finance, accounting, medicine, and architecture, the military and police. Many of them will be single-subject institutions. They will offer programs at undergraduate and post-graduate level but will not undertake research unless paid for by clients. Large companies will also increasingly set up their own “universities” within their own organizations to give bespoke professional training and qualifications to their staff. Corporate certifications are on the rise, such as Cisco Certified Network Associate and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert.

British engineer and inventor James Dyson announced in 2016 he was setting up his own university to train engineers, because of their dearth. Apple was said to be thinking of starting a university. KPMG is working with Birmingham, Exeter, and Durham Universities in the U.K. Concerns have been raised whether quality might suffer if content and quality are decided by employers and not by universities. In a Times Higher Education article, Arun Sharma, deputy vice chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, says he is vexed that India in particular is seeing an explosion of this form of higher education with employers “in effect replacing universities as the trusted guarantors of quality and credit.”

5. Digital
All six university types will invest heavily in digital and AI teaching, but specifically “digital universities” will have no physical presence for students, and have headquarters purely or mostly for administrative purposes, much like The Open University in the U.K. The number of digital universities will expand, though their growth will be contained by the conventional physical universities moving further online in a search for students.

6. Local universities
These universities will blend with further education colleges. They will not undertake research, and will offer only limited post-graduate activity. The focus will be on technical, vocational, and applied undergraduate degrees, foundation programs, apprenticeships, short courses, and qualifications for those who require particular modules for their career progression, or for general interest and lifelong learning. Every town of a size above 50-100,000 inhabitants, and many smaller, will have their own local university, which will work closely with schools, colleges, employers, social services, and the third sector in the local area and will be heavily involved in teacher training, skills development, and adult education. Almost all students will live at home.

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