Sakura’s Story

It is 2034 and the economy is doing very well; however society tends to be competitive and individualistic. This is Sakura’s story…

SakuraBefore she came the UK, Sakura had already lived and studied in China, Germany and her native Japan, so she speaks several languages. She’s a real high flyer and was snapped up quickly by her university. Naturally, she has the best accommodation on offer.

In fact she occupies several rooms, including a kitchen and dining entertainment area, bedroom and a fully connected study area. The building she lives in also includes social spaces to hangout and collaborate. Not all students live in such luxury – the poorest live in hostels.

She starts her day with an academic update and plans her diary. Her university encouraged students to pursue personal businesses while they study. It has business hubs on campus and support is strong. The university benefits from these spin-offs and the ongoing relationship with successful global businesses.

In fact some students do not get as far as graduation, but leave to pursue their businesses full time, for which the university still gets much credit and recognition.

Sakura runs her own business but she outsources much of the daily operation so that she can study. Not everyone is paid in cash, she will also trade in kind. Her motto is, “Everything is a deal”.

Sakura’s schedule is tight, not just because she has so many different tasks on the go at once, but also because her degree is set to be completed in eighteen months. There is a lot happening at once and Sakura sees the strain this puts on some fellow students, especially those with less disposable income.

Fortunately she can afford to delegate and she has a lot of family support. She is even able to secure accommodation in her building for them to stay when she wishes.

Sakura works and studies long hours but knows she is one of the lucky ones. She has to find her own way to cope with these demands, and has started to incorporate meditation into her daily life. Others don’t choose such positive approaches.

Sakura lives in a very competitive world where the stakes are high – the gap between richest and poorest is very wide. Where students live, and perhaps even the level of academic support they are able to access, is very much based on ability to pay.

She’s preparing for a glittering international career, but it will be draining and will take its toll on her. Sakura will be providing financial support for a lot of family members who may struggle without her, so it’s in everyone’s interest to invest in her education.

Martin Hughes, with Jenny Shaw, Sam Jones, Serene Lam, Walter Pico, Miona Martic and Cameron Sutherland

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Whatiwant.com: Living

We have already shared an extended overview of the fourth and final of our 2034 scenarios, whatiwant.com, and have looked at what this could mean for student learning and the HE sector. This article examines the implications of this scenario for the way in which students live.

It is 2034, the economy is booming and society tends to be competitive and individualistic. Students are focused on their university experience as a means of getting ahead and preparing themselves for employment in a high performing (and high stress) global corporate culture.

When it comes to their accommodation, students are willing to find the best quality they can, and they are also accustomed to shopping around for the best price. They may be young and less well off, but they have high expectations, demanding both quality and value for money.

The right accommodation package can be a huge differentiator for universities. In an established and competitive market, higher education institutions are competing for the best applicants who demand high service levels in all aspects of their student experience. As a result, universities exert a very high degree of control to ensure providers deliver what they want.

Smart accommodation suppliers spend considerable effort building close, strategic, and flexible relationships with the right institutions. Strong branding backed up by a distinctive and clear accommodation offer are vital.

Of course, it also helps to build lasting relationships with the best students too, and this means getting to know students in great detail: their habits, needs and wants. Along with many other consumer services, there is a willingness for individuals to share data on their preferences and behaviour in order to receive a better and more personalised service. Student accommodation is about much more than a place to sleep – it is an active base that supports students to get the most from the opportunities on offer, to focus on their academic studies and to prepare themselves for working life.

Naturally, the accommodation market is crowded. Quality varies with pricing and students recognise this. Those who can pay will do so in order to get the best features and service possible. Nevertheless, quality is generally high across the board as students are increasingly savvy and shop around for the best deal.

Simon Hooton, Martin Hughes and Jenny Shaw

Whatiwant.com: Learning

In our fourth and final 2034 scenario, society is competitive and the economy is strong. This article looks at the potential effects of such a scenario on the higher education sector and the way in which students will learn.

what i wantWhile UK society mulls over the benefits and challenges of an increasingly competitive and fast paced way of life, higher education manages to benefit on all counts. The sector is at the forefront of sustaining the knowledge revolution. Research is valued for its contribution to economic growth, concentrating on market-ready research, as it is essential to show clear value to major corporates.

There are fewer institutions than two decades ago. Those which remain have a global brand and are able to invest significantly in the infrastructure they need to maintain their reach and to attract staff and students from around the world.

Overall, the institutions that do well are those that provide high quality facilities, “star academics” and a distinctive student experience. The personal touch is really important because, in many ways, universities are personal: they are places where students come to steep themselves in learning, build friendships and learn the personal and life skills they need to become the next generation of thinkers, leaders and value creators.

The amount of time students spend at university has become more efficient. For full-time undergraduates seeking the qualifications they need to get on, this means either completing degrees in less time, or undertaking additional activities or qualifications while taking a degree course.

Overall, higher education today is designed for the high performer of tomorrow. Fees are high, but this is justified by the quality of service.

Martin Hughes and Simon Hooton

Whatiwant.com: scenario overview

Our fourth and final scenario takes place in a world in which the economy is doing well, but society tends to be individualistic and competitive. This scenario tends to divide people – some love it and some hate it. Where do you stand?

what i want

In 2034 the combination of economic growth and increased competition has led to a generation of young people who are determined and focused in their quest to get as much out of their life and career as possible.

Academically, professionally and socially, the work of students is intense. This drive toward success comes at a price:

  • Hours are long and rest is considered a luxury;
  • A relentless flow of deadlines;
  • Regular travel, often involving work while on the move. Working in three continents in a week isn’t unusual.

With these ongoing obligations and so much time on the road, global access to mobile and fixed networks is critical in order to minimise downtime. Fast and reliable connections are not so much celebrated; they are expected. Any lack of signal is now considered a major problem and companies suffering from these issues will not be tolerated.

Such reliance on 24/7 communication has continued to push innovation in mobile technology. In addition, the intelligent devices that everyone carries to speak, email, browse, buy and pay constantly send data about preferences and choices to vast data banks. Remote service providers mine the data to identify ways in which markets are evolving, to identify emerging trends and needs and to recommend new goods and services back to consumers based upon their purchasing and values profile. Consumers can sign up for different levels of data service with their preferred provider.

Although people can communicate with others, no matter where they are, the majority of connections are purely professional. In such a competitive environment, family life and relationships do not feature highly, to the great concern of some critics.

People are so busy pursuing their own careers and spending long hours working and travelling that they have little to invest in their communities. Before personal issues even come into play, some high fliers will succumb to stress and early burnout.

To add to the burden, individuals are required to recognise their own responsibility for things like personal health, educational attainment and property maintenance. The private sector has happily moved into the market to provide higher service levels – but the ability to access them depends on the ability to pay. Access to quality services is only met through the highly paid jobs that are causing personal issues along the way.

For most middle income households trying to maintain a reasonable quality of life, living alone is not an option and two incomes are required just to tread water, let alone get ahead. The cost of work on family life and relationships is a constant concern.

Over the next few days we’ll examine the implications of this scenario for student learning and living.

Simon Hooton and Martin Hughes

The role of universities in tackling climate change

Simon Hooton considers the impact of climate change in future years and the role that HE may play in addressing this.

In the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report, it is perhaps a good time to consider what role Higher Education has to play in the future in reducing the impacts of climate change and adapting to the increasing risks and vulnerabilities.

Of course, one would expect that most universities would have some faculties that were teaching or researching some issues connected to the climate change agenda. One would expect that most universities would have looked at reducing the carbon impact of their large campuses – if for no other reason than to reduce operating costs.

However in the future, the impacts of climate change could range from flooding and storm damage, especially in campuses based near the coast, to a reduction on the numbers of overseas students, as the cost of international travel increases. Campus properties that have been designed to keep out the cold will increasingly have to cope with keeping out heat. This is already a growing issue in student accommodation. And all the while, energy is likely to become more expensive.

But, perhaps, the biggest issue they universities will face is from their stakeholders – the students, communities, staff and even shareholders who are likely to demand greater and faster action from the HE sector – particularly as the impacts become more observable and therefore more real. There is already a spreading disinvestment movement in the USA, Scandinavia and the UK. This is largely based on an expectation that universities should be exercising moral leadership in the fight against climate change. Most universities have huge investment portfolios and some are now beginning to see that their wider social responsibility is bound up in trying to secure a safe, equitable and thriving future for those students that they teach.

Higher education has good practical, financial, academic and moral reasons for stepping up and leading our action in this area.

Simon Hooton

Digital Islands: Living

Continuing with our exploration of the Digital Islands scenario, this post explores what student life might be like in a stagnant UK economy and a competitive society in 2034.

digital islandsGrowing numbers of students who remain at home have resulted in a fall in demand for accommodation. While this is not a universal trend, it means students can live at home and minimise costs. It often means, too, that they have better quality housing. Students in rural areas, however, do not have that choice and will continue to rely on universities and private providers for a place to live.

In this frugal age, today’s students are willing to accept fewer frills than their parents did, if it means they pay less. All they ask is that housing is clean, well maintained, functional and safe. Beyond those basics, they are willing to accept considerable variance in quality.

However, accommodation quality tends to be on the lower side for domestic undergraduates. For universities to retain an intake of international students, their needs come first. International students seek a higher standard of accommodation and the institutions have to provide it in order to remain competitive. If international student numbers drop too far this could seriously affect the economic viability of some institutions. Investment in keeping numbers high enough is considered necessary to underpin continued success. Domestic students are therefore often priced out of anything other than basic accommodation provision.

Students no longer have the same excitement and relative sense of freedom from university life. They recognise the importance of training and getting to the other side, into work. This importance is more through necessity than through any sense of ambition and aspiration. Like much of the wider public, they do not feel engaged, nor do they feel much sense of responsibility beyond themselves. Learning, therefore, is now considered less an exploration and more a set of hoops to jump through.

The student experience is no longer a key focus and it is certainly less broadening. While students continue to enjoy downtime and socialising, there is little variation in the activities available to them. Less emphasis is given to building networks. As a result, many students tend to keep to friendship groups they already possess in the local area. Online status updates to friends are generally made on a private basis and conversations regularly continue throughout the day. Calendars are shared so friends can make use of the limited time left available to them for socialising.

The clubs and societies of previous generations have mainly fallen by the wayside as experiences for the sake of fun are rare and large scale social gatherings are severely limited. Some sporting activity remains on a minor scale, but it is generally limited to individuals who already display the skills and can participate in order to boost the university’s image as a promoter of talent.

Extra-curricular activities are now more likely to be those showing more immediate benefits. These are highly regarded by students, as they are hopeful that they will be noticed by business talent scouts. Opportunities that do open up are seen as a gateway to a brighter future. Activities can include specialist training courses at local companies to enhance professional development, and business workshops that provide industry insight.

Next week we’ll share two student stories from the Digital Islands scenario.

Simon Hooton and Martin Hughes

Digital Islands: Learning

Yesterday we introduced our Digital Islands scenario, in which the economy has experienced ongoing stagnation and society tends to be competitive and individualistic. Unsurprisingly this has significant implications for higher education. Below we paint a portrait of how this could look in 2034.

digital islandsYoung people are acutely aware of the economic realities and many feel the impact as their parents are busy dealing with the ongoing squeeze on family incomes and making plans to cope for their own futures. Those who are students notice the impact more directly. Government funding for higher education has been cut further and there is further responsibility is on students to fund their studies.

A major purpose for higher education is training for employment. Employers commission courses from further education/higher education partnerships according to workforce needs. With a struggling economy, however, funding from business cannot fully replace public funding.

Curricula have narrowed – there is less scope for non-applied subjects – and shortened, with full-time degrees often being delivered in 18 months. The distinction between FE and HE is blurred. This is exacerbated further by a reduction in research in HE, with much of that which remains being proprietary research commissioned by businesses.

There are fewer universities overall and many institutions have merged, but overheads always have to be reduced. Overall student numbers are down, and very few go on to postgraduate education due to both lack of ambition and the lack of research opportunities.

Tertiary education no longer focuses on traditional grade structures, with the focus instead on students gaining and demonstrating knowledge that is needed in specific career areas. The link between education and business is felt more acutely as students regularly visit employers and take a more practical approach to their learning. Companies seeking future talent are on the lookout long before students graduate. It is in their best interests to pay attention now that the role of HE/FE in feeding the talent pipeline is more firmly under the control of businesses, and yet it is seen as a cost rather than an investment.

A small number of ‘elite’ universities remain. The difference between these more traditional institutions and other universities is pronounced and there is a clear inequality between the two. This has an impact on students attending the two types of institution, creating further social division.

For those applicants not focused on the ‘elites’, there is little choice in the type of university they attend. Emphasis is on training and there is not enough difference between institutions for applicants to bother shopping around.

Learning and teaching has not quite been reduced to questions and answers, but there is a heavy reliance on quiz-based testing and multiple-choice papers. Exams are at least initially assessed by computer and access to academic staff is limited. Students help each other through forums and remote discussions, which can then be escalated as a group if common difficulties or areas of concern arise. Individual concerns are not treated with the same level of seriousness and students are encouraged to seek peer support in most cases.

Martin Hughes and Simon Hooton

Digital Islands: Scenario Overview

This week we’re focusing on the third of our four future scenarios. In this scenario, the economy has remained in a state of stagnation and the ethos in society is competitive. Unsurprisingly, this has been described as the most gloomy of our scenarios.

digital islands

It is 2034 and the boom times are quite definitely over. The global economy has remained in what was once coyly described as ‘a short period of readjustment’ and there is no sign of any recovery soon. The business community is nervous and risk averse. There is great reluctance to take on any more debt and investment and innovation have slowed dramatically.

Unemployment has risen and pensions have disappeared. The young are particularly suffering, concerned about limited job opportunities, unaffordable housing and the very real possibility of inheriting significant levels of debt from their parents. Their belief that they have inherited a mess created by the selfish older generation is proving divisive.

For those in work, hours are long and pay is low. The pension deficit means that most people have to continue working as long as they are able to. Governments have sought to protect their indigenous industries by setting trade tariffs and quotas and have pursued self-sufficiency where possible.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the implications of this scenario on student learning.

Simon Hooton and Martin Hughes

The future is bright, the future is circular

How might student accommodation change in response to the increasing threat of climate change and resource depletion? A circular economy approach may hold the answer.

A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and Ellen MacArthur Foundation are working together on Project Mainstream, an action plan for scaling up the circular economy. Project Mainstream estimates that the transition to a circular economy would provide $1tn in annual savings by 2025 and create 100,000 new jobs within five years.

So far, the UK’s progress towards establishing a circular economy is ‘disappointing’, according to WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin. WRAP research suggests there is ‘great potential’ for the market in trading-in and upgrading goods. The Environmental Services Association agrees.  Its June 2013 report Going for Growth estimates that a more circular approach to the economy could boost GDP by £3bn, while generating 50,000 new jobs.

The circular economy concept has been around for some time without yet making a significant impact.  Legislation is not yet in place, but the EU is developing proposals. Moreover, the recent economic downturn has prompted many businesses and individuals to look for more efficient approaches to resource use in their day to day lives.

Scotland has joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Circular Economy 100 network (the first nation to do so) and the Scottish government has released its circular economy blueprint, Zero Waste – Safeguarding Scotland’s Resources. In it, the government sets out an action plan to help businesses use resources more efficiently, to stimulate innovation and business opportunities in the sector and to stimulate a culture of resource efficiency.

If a circular economy approach enters the mainstream, implications for student accommodation – indeed, wider student living – could be far reaching. It will change the way buildings are developed and managed, with buildings that are designed to be far more resource efficient from the start, reusing resources such as waste water and heat, and increasingly that use digital technology to be ‘smart’.  There are also implications for the way in which students will live. Beyond recycling, we may see more bartering and exchange of unwanted goods, and the level of micro food production predicted in our Living Well scenario.

These changes may still be some way off, but with wider environmental legislation accelerating, a wider uptake of circular economy principles is now looking more likely.

Alister Wilson (Ash Futures) edited by Jenny Shaw

Asher’s Story

Asher is the second of our students from 2034 living within the Community Centre scenario. His world is one of continued austerity but strong community ties.

AsherAsher is funded by a co-operative network to work through university. He started attending in his mid-twenties after gaining this local funding to give him further skills to help give back to society.

Living in the family home, Asher is still self-sufficient to a large extent and is committed to his learning. University education isn’t all a campus experience and Asher spends a lot of time at a computer to work on digital tests and online lectures.

Although much of his work is completed via screens, his path to completion is personalised, based on his own rate of progress and his specific skillsets. Asher wishes to make his mark on his chosen field and the personal touch helps to build his entrepreneurial spirit. The co-operative helping to fund his way through university originally stems from a local resident who had a big idea and was able to go to Malaysia to build a company with cash and resources that weren’t available in this country. Subsequently, he returned to put money into the local economy and help people like Asher to find a way forward.

Asher would like to offer a similar legacy. Whatever the future holds, he feels valued despite difficult financial circumstances. When he is not studying online on his personalised modules, he is working on a local project to rejuvenate the town. He works part-time on planning and sustainable, low-cost architectural design, but the remainder of the work is voluntary. Volunteers like Asher do receive a small amount of money through a central funding pot, but it is merely a token gesture. Like most people involved, Asher expects a greater return on investment further in the future.

Asher’s family also work on supporting the local area and are lucky enough to own their own property. Another student of the local university lives with them and would not have been able to attend university if it wasn’t for this generous offer. Unusually, this student is studying on a full-time basis, but this is in order to secure better work as quickly as possible.

In the evening, Asher sets aside a little time to catch up on some lectures, but he is also looking forward to going out to see his friends for a rare outing and a few drinks.

Martin Hughes, with Serene Lam, Walter Pico, Miona Martic and Cameron Sutherland