HE sector leaders share key trends for 2024

5 trends for HE in 2024

What does the future hold for higher education in 2024? We asked five sector leaders to share their thoughts on key trends for the year ahead.

1. Artificial intelligence

Authenticity of information will become an overriding concern in 2024, according to Sir Tim O’Shea, former Principal of the University of Edinburgh.

“Who actually produced the electronic text that is being considered? How can we assess the truth of any assertions that are made?”

He predicts that attempts to ban the use of AI by university students will fail. Instead, there will be a shift in assessment criteria to accommodate generative AI tools.

“In assessment the issue will become was any large language model software used appropriately? Larger proportion of mark schemes will be devoting to rewarding demonstrations of authenticity.”

Sir Tim believes that boundaries between students and teachers will change, and the growth of computer-supported collaborative learning will continue.

“Increasingly teachers will become the learning peers of their students. All will use the same search engines and text generators to discover, organise and authenticate knowledge.”

In addition, copyright will be a very hot topic.

“Who owns the material on which the large language model was trained? Do they have to be paid? Should ChatGPT pay? Or the user? Or the university if the user is a teacher or a student following teacher direction?”

Despite the challenges ahead, he remains positive about the impact of AI on higher education.

“I am a technoptimist. The early promise of digital education declared by Vannevar Bush seventy years ago is now suddenly becoming a reality … I now believe we have almost reached the long anticipated sunny uplands of digital education.”

2. Higher education funding

It’s likely that we’ll look back on 2024 as a pivotal year, says Professor Janice Kay CBE, Special Advisor to the Vice Chancellor at the University of Exeter (formerly Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Exeter).

“A year in which an imminent March budget and subsequent General Election is unlikely to bring good news about a sustainable HE funding model, creating severe challenges for an already challenged sector.”

However, Professor Kay is optimistic that these challenges will give rise to creative solutions.

“2024 will be a year in which bold strategies and confident implementation will create opportunities for stability and possibly even growth.”

Given the likelihood of funding issues in the HE sector, James Gray (CEO of Kortext) believes that the strategic imperative for universities to capture and utilise data will be the key trend in 2024.

“… universal acceptance of the fact that universities need to collect and use data to help them run their institutions more efficiently and effectively.”

Universities will be exploring how best to achieve this – whether through in-house solutions, by outsourcing, or in partnership with edtech providers. James predicts a collaborative approach will enable universities to realise their goals with flexibility and optionality.

“I think you will see more of a drive to partnerships to help them achieve what they want to achieve.”

James is keen to partner with institutions to explore how Kortext’s common data platform will integrate within existing university teaching, learning and data infrastructures to support an institution’s strategic goals and day-to-day operations.

3. Digital transformation

In 2024, universities will continue on their journey of post-pandemic digital transformation, with the further development of blended or online learning models enhancing flexibility and accessibility.

Rod Bristow (Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education and former President of Global Online Learning & UK at Pearson) expands on this theme, citing his recent visit to Arizona State University where immersive learning technology has been integrated with teaching through instructional design with impressive results.

“Innovations in teaching and learning inevitably involve technology, but technology is the means, not the end. Technology’s connection with instructional design and teaching, is where innovation meets impact.”

He is confident that system-wide challenge in higher education will help fuel a year of innovation in 2024. However, like James Gray, Rod Bristow believes that partnership and collaboration are key.

“Will higher education unleash more ideas that help scale great teaching in 2024? Through partnership, collaboration, and a culture of innovation, I think it will.”

4. Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning and continuing education will gain importance as people seek to upskill (or reskill) through their careers as job demands change, according to Professor Janice Kay.

“Universities will expand their portfolios and delivery of short courses, professional development programmes and flexible learning options.”

She comments that, in 2024, there will be an increasing emphasis on aligning HE with the needs of the jobs market, more work-integrated learning opportunities, and fostering entrepreneurship.

Rod Bristow concurs, observing that wider demand for tertiary education continues to grow strongly as new, and past, learners focus on its connection to better work and life.

“Demand for lifelong career-focused education will continue to see the most innovative institutions finding new ways to meet demand, reach new learners, and provide a great learning experience, at scale.”

5. Transformative agreements

Transformative agreements will be an even bigger issue for university libraries in 2024, says Lisa McLaren, Deputy Director of SCONUL.

Put simply, transformative agreements are contracts negotiated between institutions and publishers that shift the business model of scholarly journal publishing away from subscription-based access and towards open access.

Existing concerns will be exacerbated as library budgets shrink and paying for content, or to publish, becomes more expensive.

“Transformative deals have rapidly increased the availability of open access articles, in keeping with funder mandates and REF requirements, but largely at the expense of green open access.”

Lisa comments that it’s going to be a major challenge to look beyond current deals and those being negotiated.

“… librarians are going to have to be quite radical in their thinking to get to something that is truly transformational and largely meets the needs of the full sector. There are no easy or quick answers in this space.”

SCONUL is starting the new year with a Content Forum, bringing together a wide range of SCONUL members to ask, ‘What’s next?’ for the sector, and conversations will continue throughout 2024.

Change is the only constant

Many thanks to our expert contributors for their insights. It seems that change is the only constant in higher education, and we’re excited to find out how 2024 will unfold!

In the meantime, tap here for a look back at 2023 from a Kortext perspective.