Student-centredness will become a defining feature in the future of tertiary education

Scotland’s tertiary education sector must adapt to better meet the needs of learners and society at large, according to a new report published today (Friday 3rd March) by The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Launched in partnership with the Young Academy of Scotland (YAS), the Tertiary Education Futures report indicates that with the evolution of new technology, leadership styles and access to education, there is a significant opportunity for tertiary education to tackle some of the challenges facing the sector by embarking on some much-needed and probing conversations.

The report suggests learners will come from increasingly divergent backgrounds – including a rise in returners displaced from the job market by decarbonisation or automation, requiring bespoke support in achieving success.

Professor Anne Anderson FRSE, Fellow of the RSE and Chair of the Tertiary Education Futures project, said:

A person standing in front of a building
Professor Anne Anderson FRSE | Chair of the Tertiary Education Futures project

It is clear that learner-centredness will likely become a defining feature of the evolving tertiary system, with a shift in focus of instruction from the teacher to the student. Future learners will expect a more tailored, fluid experience that would fit into their existing schedules and allow them to demonstrate their adaptability to potential employers.

To ease adaptation and build on the respective strengths of different providers, we could see institutions move towards a more collaborative system that relies on decentralised, reciprocal provision which would lead to a more agile and interdisciplinary delivery infrastructure.

Among the findings, the report highlighted fostering a culture of collaboration within organisations, which will require system-wide changes.

These changes will also mean a broader and more ambitious approach that pursues collaboration in its widest sense. Learners understandably want to futureproof their education as far as possible and may look to alternatives if tertiary providers fail to modernise.

Prof Anderson added:

It is hoped that the report will encourage further productive conversations about the future of post–schooling education.

The Tertiary Education Futures project was created by RSE and YAS as a ‘blue-skies’ thought experiment, informed by sectoral views gathered through a series of investigative roundtables. It aims to stimulate continued creative thinking about how post-school education might evolve over the next few decades.

The RSE’s independence and convening power are uniquely placed to facilitate frank, cross-disciplinary dialogue to inform public policy and address complex societal problems.

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