The last few years have seen leaders across the world bring in major changes that affect education, from the Gonski 2.0 funding changes, and the Higher Education Reform Package in Australia to the Apprenticeship Levy, Higher Education and Research Act, and Technical and Further Education Act in the UK. Brexit continues to dominate the headlines in the UK with growing concern and uncertainty on how our ‘divorce’ from Europe will impact students seeking an education in the UK. Meanwhile new technologies that were only emerging a few years ago are now becoming a part of our everyday lives and a part of the classroom.
Many of these changes were felt more than ever during 2017 not only bringing about a change in education, but also bringing about a change in the way we think about delivering education, how we ensure quality and stay compliant, and how we can continue to not just match, but exceed student expectations. As we start 2018 we have looked across the education market and picked out what we think are going to be some of the biggest talking points and challenges of the year ahead.
Whilst most parents and pupils in the UK spent much of 2017 scratching heads over the new 9-1 numbering system that replaced A*- G ratings, parents in Australia scratched their head over the new Gonski 2.0 funding deal. Hopefully, by August 2018 in the UK, when next year’s results are revealed, everyone will finally understand that grade 4 is a minimum pass and 9 is the very top end of the scale and hopefully, during 2018, the state and federal governments in Australia will come to an agreement on funding.
Dominating much of 2017 the overhaul known as Gonski 2.0 promised a needs-based system to determine education funding across Australia. But the plan was criticised by education groups and some state governments, who said it would lead to major cuts. The senate passed the Australian government's big 10-year plan. However, towards the end of the year we saw many states either reluctantly sign up to Gonski 2.0 promising to fight back, or refuse to sign leaving many schools in limbo. As we start 2018 the arguments between the state and federal governments only look set to intensify over the Gonski 2.0 funding deal during the rest of the year.
Vision and Community
With changes to grading and curriculum settling down in the UK, 2018 looks like the year that schools will begin to identify, collate and communicate better than ever before their unique vision. If everyone understands this from parents to learners then it only helps to create stronger schools. This doesn't just stop at the school gates but needs to continue into the wider community. With schools already building strong partnerships or seeking out new ones and and as universities are encouraged to sponsor schools, it can only serve to reinforce bonds, create positivity and forge new partnerships that can pool and share resources for the benefit of pupils and the wider community.
Technology and Curriculum
Popular in 2017, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) look set to continue their explosion into classrooms in 2018. As well as engagement with AR/VR, schools look set to truly shift the focus back to pupils’ passions in learning. With a wider curriculum in the UK, pupils will be able to explore and spend time on subjects like the arts, sport, music, and the outdoors. Combined with AR and VR this will provide new opportunities for pupils to explore their full range of talents and find new interests and hobbies, giving them a true opportunity to grow and shine.
Grammar schools hit the headlines in 2017 as the UK government wanted to open more of them, but dropped plans to create completely new grammar schools because they were deemed too controversial. Why did they want new grammar schools? It could be for two reasons.
Firstly, parent power. There is growing pressure for more places from parents and a fear that competition will only become fiercer as many parents are willing to travel from far afield or relocate so their children can attend a grammar school.
Secondly, demand. Since 2010 the number of pupils in grammar schools has grown from 110,600 in 2009-10 to 118,200 in 2016-17. That’s an increase of 7,600 pupils or enough to fill 11 average sized grammar schools. With no new grammar schools created during this time it's clear there is demand. If intakes stay the same then by 2020-21 there will be another 6,900 more pupils attending grammar schools, that’s enough to fill another 10 average sized grammar schools. While existing grammar schools are expanding to meet demand, we could see grammar schools back on the agenda in 2018.
Will 2018 be the year that technical and academic education achieve parity? With a review of level 4 and 5 technical education ahead as well as continuing towards the introduction of T Levels the UK government is certainly focusing on growing the skills base to meet future needs.
Assessing education outcomes has always been about the teaching (inputs) and the learning (outputs), however during 2017 and increasingly during 2018 there is a focus on what the student does afterwards. Many will be keenly focused on the outcomes of students be it continuing in education or entering employment as this has become a key part of the measurement framework not only for further education institutions but also higher education institutions.
In Australia, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) institutions are taking a swipe at universities saying students leave studies with higher debt and weaker prospects, whilst 30 per cent of students at one TAFE Sydney campus already have a degree. During 2018 TAFE will continue to regroup after years of budget cuts, fee increases, closures and competition with the private sector. Just like the UK, many in Australia are recognising that the engine room of the economy comes from people that have skill, and that can practically deliver work in the workplace.
2017 was a roller coaster year for Apprenticeships. April saw the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, followed over the rest of the year by lots of discussions about 20 per cent off-the-job training, a 61% drop in apprenticeship starts which the government expected, and then growing concern that two thirds of apprenticeships are a conversion of existing employees. It looks like the ride isn't over in 2018. Old style frameworks are switching off and new standards are turning on. Although this has been happening since 2016 this year we will see some of the biggest and most popular frameworks switching off.
Degree apprenticeships, introduced in 2015 in the UK and attracting 2,000 starts by 2017, look set to increase with 27 new projects underway and more universities registering for the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers. The UK government see this as a key way of ensuring technical education can reach just as high as an academic one. It's not just the UK, Australia is also looking with interest at the impact they have and asking if they should follow the same course. Some complain universities have become too vocational in nature — too focused on jobs, not enough on the art of inquiry. At the same time, the vocational education sector in Australia is reeling from 15 years of funding cuts and the aftershocks of failed free-market experiments. Numbers in trade apprenticeships and traineeships are plummeting. Less than 30 per cent of vocational students in Australia work in the areas in which they studied. It will be interesting to see how this develops both here in the UK and in Australia.
During 2018 we will see an even greater focus on student needs. This is thanks to a better understanding of what students really need from technology, institutional communications, and their courses. Tuition fees have been frozen in the UK and a major review of student funding is rapidly approaching on the horizon. A new Higher Education regulator, the Office for Students has also come into force with a keen eye on ensuring value for money. As the name suggests, their focus will be on regulation for the benefit of current and future students rather than regulation for the benefit of higher education institutions. This change in focus could have far reaching implications, as the first stakeholders of the Office for Students will no longer be higher education institutions.
2018 will also see Australia and the UK collaborate to develop new higher education strategies and policies. The Australian Regional Universities Network (RUN) and the UK’s Association for Modern Universities MillionPlus have agreed to work together on research, innovation, and regional development for tertiary education. It will provide a shared understanding of key policy issues in both the UK and Australia at a time when higher education reform legislation is being considered by Parliament in Australia, and further reforms are under discussion in the UK.
2018 will see a sharper, clearer focus on what students truly need. Things like providing good Wi-Fi across the campus, and determining what makes good digital and/or open resources for today’s students. That’s not to say, that Artificial Intelligence merging with an institution app and innovative credentialing won’t happen, but before real innovation in learning can happen, the basics have to be there first — and institutions are aiming to make these basics happen this year!
Why is university funding been reviewed? Well, the UK snap general election of 2017 has much to answer for here. With the Labour Party enjoying a swing of over 20% in some university seats it was clear that the student vote had been revived with the promise to scrap tuition fees altogether. The government had to make a response to this and whilst it may make a popular appeal to young voters it will be universities that are watching nervously. It is likely that the level of fees, interest rates, the sale of student debt, the return of maintenance grants, and the length of repayments will all be under scrutiny.
The future of tuition fees is unpredictable, it would be a mistake in 2018 to think that funding can completely change but that nothing else has to really change. It's not just here in the UK, in New Zealand there are plans to remove fees completely for tertiary education and training. From 2018 everyone will get one year free and by 2024 all three years will be free. In Australia, course fees are set to rise coupled with students having to pay back their loans sooner. Wherever in the world education providers or universities are, they need to start seeing themselves as consumer-friendly businesses with millions of young customers that are keenly aware of how their money is being spent and used.
Value for Money
A survey carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute in the UK, showed only 32% of students in England thought their courses were good value for money. This is something that many universities will be keen to address. During 2018 I am sure many universities will be asking themselves, how many hours students are taught, the quality of the teaching, and have they delivered everything they said they would at recruitment and enrolment? Offering customer service, while maintaining academic rigour and quality, will be a tricky balancing act.
Two year degrees
Towards the end of the year there was a lot of talk of accelerated two-year degrees off the back of the UK government's plans to introduce them. No university will be forced to offer two-year degrees, however the new Office for Students will “support and encourage” their development, and monitor demand for them. Will 2018 be the year of two year degrees?
A university could charge £11,000 a year for an accelerated course, compared to the £9,250 for a normal three, or four-year course. However, it still adds up to a smaller amount then three years of £9,250. This means universities will need strong recruitment to accelerated courses to make them financially viable. With little evidence of where student demand for these courses may come from, and the impact on an institutions income just one year's drop in recruitment can have, it's likely that accelerated courses will be found predominantly within the alternative sector as they are now. So why introduce them? The thinking is that an expanded alternative sector offering accelerated courses will provide healthy competition, however it isn't clear that students will be drawn away from three or four-year degrees to accelerated ones. Instead new providers are catering to niche areas of the market.
So, don’t panic, 2018 won't see the majority of universities trying to squeeze a course into a shorter time-frame. But if two-year degrees do take off, universities will have to continue to demonstrate the efficiency and value of the three-year offering.
I guess we couldn’t look at education in 2018 and not mention this. 2018 will continue to be an exceptionally challenging and unstable time, but it will begin to clarify what Brexit means for education in the UK. As negotiations move into phase two it is likely to stabilise the position of existing non-UK EU staff. For higher education, we don’t really know if the UK will remain in Horizon 2020 or the many other research programmes we currently contribute to.
What is clear is that there is a good deal of appreciation on both sides of the table for the UK’s contribution to European education and Europe's contribution to UK education. We will all have to just wait and see what happens.
No one can really tell what is going to happen over the next year, you only have to look at the results of 2017 to know that. What we do know is that all the points above will have an impact on education now, and for many they will shape the future of education over the next three to five years. It's important to look at how we can understand the opportunities they present so education providers can be empowered and continue to improve student success.