There are many challenges in the higher and further education sector. These include:
- Challenges of Student Recruitment. Significantly more competition across all educational markets will continue to evolve as recruitment is becoming far more competitive. Students expect a more tailored experience and are far more discerning about value for money and flexibility. In addition to improving the student experience, the UK education market will look to increase its presence in international markets and growing postgraduate numbers.
- The Brexit Effect. In terms of international students, the current issues around visas and the ongoing dialogue around immigration doesn’t present the UK favourably. The challenge will be maintaining business as usual, although the decline in the value of Sterling reduces the costs of a great UK education, internationally.
- Fee Challenges. Funding cuts have already been made at many institutions and less money means less investment. Students are making increasing use of mental health services in the educational sector, as the financial and other pressures they face grow, and it is important that the sector is able to meet and support this demand. The potential of reduced fees will undoubtedly impact on funding for services at some educational institutions, which is very concerning.
- Increased Student Expectations. Education is invaluable and it is really important that the sector helps students achieve their goals. High-quality accommodation, great student support, interested and supportive staff, inspiring teaching and outstanding careers’ support are seen as standard now. The reality is that expectations increase year-on-year from the quality and choice of catering to the WiFi speed, pastoral support, extracurricular activities and careers. Not all students want luxury, however. With so much high-end accommodation, there is a demand for lower-priced, affordable student housing.
- The Challenges of Alternative Education. The rise in the number of apprenticeships and a new phase of degree apprenticeship courses entering the Higher Education market means education is now more fragmented than the classic three-year BA Hons or BSc degrees. For example, universities aren’t just competing with apprenticeships; they are competing with structured online courses and degrees, and specialist education providers. You can now choose from 40+ degrees online; these are positioned as cheaper, flexible and something you can ‘learn as you go’.
- UK Higher Education Dropping in Rankings. The Times Higher Education (THE) World Reputation Rankings for last year demonstrated a downward spiral for UK universities as its global competitors challenged the UK institutions to their positions. Japan is in spot 2 as the second most popular country to study in and the UK has slipped to spot 3. Oxford and Cambridge still rank highly in spots 4 and 5.
- Decline in International Reputation. Brexit appears to have had a detrimental impact on the reputation of the UK education sector to both students and also leaders within the industry. Four years ago, 28% of the academic staff working in the UK were non-UK nationals. 16% of these were from the EU. This shows the increased challenges faced in UK higher education when it comes to recruiting staff.
- UK Researchers are Moving Abroad. 70% of UK researchers are now choosing to have their research published and associated with education institutions outside of the UK. Some observers say this could be seen to be weakening the UK’s reputation.
- Reduction in Research Funding. The reduction in Research Funding from the Department for Education (DfE) appears to be forcing UK educational staff to go outside of the UK to fulfil their research project. This is adding pressure on the UK higher education sector, as they look to find funding internally.
- Increase in International Higher Education Institutions. The University of Tokyo has risen to #13 in the Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings above Tsinghua University of China, closely followed by Peking University of China and Kyoto University in Japan.
- Student Welfare. The positive impact of mental health charities and support groups has been welcomed in the UK. However, talking about mental health is also having an impact on the UK higher education reputation, as particularly international students are questioning their quality of life and welfare should they choose to study in the UK. Having a well thought out set-up for support students that are suffering with mental health, suicidal thoughts and serious illnesses is a cost that all universities need to budget for in the coming academic years, especially with the challenge of funding being cut from the Department of Education (DfE).
Strategic Supplier Partnership Working
The bulk of fees, grants and other income needs to continue to be invested into improving the student experience and improve educational competitiveness, both domestically and internationally. In order to do this, investment in areas such as quality of teaching and research staff, educational facilities and digital online learning and knowledge management needs to be increased, whilst non-essential operating overheads need to be minimised.