Three possible futures for universities and recruitment to
◦ Locked-in — future in progress today
◦ 50/50 — less certain, but possible
◦ Discontinuities and wild cards - considering the
A quick note
These aren’t predictions.
These are fragments of possible futures.
The aim is to make visible the assumptions that aren’t
being questioned—stepping out of the frame.
Broad-brush descriptions of complex things.
◦ Global and local contexts matter more than national
◦ Transportation and communications technology
◦ Global forces more visible on local scale
◦ Local difference more visible on global scale
◦ Globalisation and technological progress ‘hollowing
out’ labour market (Brown, Lauder & Ashton, 2011)
◦ Increased competition for high-skilled jobs
◦ Demand for flexible, adaptable employees
—‘lifelong learning’, ‘employability’
◦ Many internets (commercial/political/open)
◦ Mobile and wearable hardware
◦ Multiple, transient identities—move away from ‘single
sign on’ and towards anonymity
◦ Savvy information consumers
◦ Politically-conscious youth: concerned with climate &
◦ New models of production/consumption (Kickstarter/
◦ Rise of subscription models
◦ Blurred lines between work/home/learning
Greater role for private sector in higher education
◦ Value for money driving offer to learners
Traditional roles of university disaggregated
Not just recruiting to single institution
Authentic engagement with audience across shifting
Clear narrative of both personal and social impact of
degree choice for learners
More strategic role within institution.
No global superpowers—but leading cities and regions.
◦ Variety of governance regimes
◦ Local funding for services
◦ Differences within nations greater than between them.
New sectors and disciplines become prominent
◦ Biocomputing, commercial space exploration,
◦ Working across disciplines and in partnership key to
◦ Startup model not able to sustain this reach:
established firms centres of innovation
Profile of learners changes
◦ Older, part-time students dominate
◦ Most speak English as a second language (and learnt
from a Chinese language school)
◦ Cognitive augmentation through cosmetic
pharmacology & prosthetic enhancements
◦ Alumni of multiple institutions
Majority of research takes place outside university
◦ Practice-focussed—underpins real-world action
◦ Activist organisations and private companies
Open access/free software movement widespread
◦ Digital-first journals hosted in institutions
◦ Focus on ongoing research and early findings
Western universities no longer most prestigious
University role shifts to stewardship of established
knowledge, rather than breaking new ground
Funding depends on regional relevance
Students attending more than one institution through
modular and part-time courses
Students in Europe demanding accreditation from Asian
Difficult to monitor student body as they move between
institutions — demands sophisticated CRM approaches.
Entrance tests impossible to assess — move to
probationary period of studies.
Machine intelligence (collective and distributed
Cold fusion, quantum computing a reality.
Geoengineering and agriculture are social priorities.
Habitable territory lost to the sea and the heat.
Not all intelligences seeking accreditation will be human.
Universities embedded in society through control of
energy and information, but strong incentives to focus
on domains with immediate social benefit.
Many historic universities underwater. Others entirely
mobile, travelling to research sites and possible new
Mobility reduced as temperate countries clamp down on
How do you recruit an artificial intelligence? Who do you
Immigration status disputes: multi-tiered access,
citizenship privileges tightly controlled and monitored.
High demand for the new sciences: impact on
Dancing in systems*
Prediction works for closed, linear systems.
Prediction doesn’t work in open, non-linear, feedback
Long-term thinking demands agility and anticipation.
Imagination and creativity vital.
Not the same things
Who are you recruiting?
◦ Future alumni to a university?
◦ Students to a degree course?
◦ Employees to the workforce?
◦ Activists for social change?
– Eric Hobsbawm
“The only certain thing about the
future is that it will surprise even
those who have seen the furthest