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What will next-gen universities look like?

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

[Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from The Fourth Education Revolution, Sir Anthony Seldon’s latest book, which takes a tantalizing look into the school of the future, what artificial intelligence (AI) will mean for higher ed, and how it will impact our lives in general.]

Universities, for all their diversity across the world, will become still more so over the next 25 years, under the pressures of financial, social, and above all technological change. The ‘Carnegie Classification’ of institutions of higher education, created in 1973, attempts to categorize the different types of universities and colleges in the U.S. All accredited-degree granting universities and colleges across the U.S. are described as follows:

  • Doctorate-granting universities, with a high research focus
  • Masters’ colleges, which focus on Masters’ degrees while still undertaking research
  • Baccalaureate colleges, which see the focus on bachelors’ degrees
  • Associate colleges, whose highest award is the associate degree
  • Special focus institutions, defined as offering degrees in a single field or set of related fields
  • “Tribal colleges,” belonging to the American Indian HE consortium

A more international and forward-looking model of university archetypes have been outlined by Glyn Davis, formerly vice chancellor of the University of Melbourne. The “influencer” university is international in perspective, strongly driven by research and tackling the major issues facing each individual country and the world. The “agile” university is rich in AI and digital technology, and dedicated to applied research as well as giving students a competitive advantage. The “consultant” university is focused on the job market and its purpose is to serve organizational clients who buy expert advice, education, and research/innovation to boost their own performance. Finally, the “community” university is less interested in national and international league tables and has its raison d’etre principally in serving local students and business, and in championing them on national stages.

Related: 5 approaches will shape higher ed’s future—which will you follow?

The Carnegie and Glyn Davis models are useful, especially the latter, but we need to go further to visualize how universities will adapt to the rise of AI and online learning, the fall in residential full-time students living away from home, a rise in part-time and all-age students, and an increase in the number of accelerated degrees and those taking specific modules at university rather than completing a full degree at one university.

We see the market segmenting into six different kinds of institution.

1. Global
This will constitute a league of the top universities across the world, some 100 in number, that compete internationally to attract world class academics and the very ablest researchers. They are heavily interlinked and research-focused, addressing similar global problems. They will appeal to highly able undergraduate and postgraduates who relish independent study and being taught by cutting-edge academics. These will be truly the elite institutions, attracting a disproportionate amount of global research funding and exerting considerable influence in their own countries and internationally. Their graduates will be employed internationally and paid commensurate high salaries. They will have little contact with their local or regional communities.

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