What do students want and expect from the future of education?

The future role of technology and faculty, the importance placed in international study options, growing societal concerns, and perceived strengths and weaknesses in higher education – EDHEC Business School reports on a survey of students in France, the UK, US, India and South Africa

The pandemic has pressed Business Schools and universities to offer students online courses, generating questions about the role of the teacher, how knowledge is transmitted, and the importance of international study options.

The thoughts and perceptions of students in these areas and more were highlighted in EDHEC’s 2020 OpinionWay survey on the future of education, which collected the thoughts of more than 5,000 students across the UK, US, France, India and South Africa.

The future role of the teacher

Among the major transformations in higher education, the adoption of new technologies is seen as positive in the UK (94%), but also in France (87%), India (98%), US (92%) and South Africa (99%). All of the countries also agreed that the introduction of new technologies will change the way professors teach. However, there is a significant contrast among countries in terms of their perception of digital’s impact on the role of teaching staff and how they convey knowledge.

While 56% of French students think the primary role of educators tomorrow will be to hand down knowledge, students in the UK (51%), US (48%), India (55%) and South Africa (62%) think professors will focus more on teaching the right methods for self-learning through new technologies.

In response to the question of how knowledge will primarily be conveyed in the future, students in the UK (42%), US (44%), India (41%) and South Africa (55%) expect it to be mostly through the use of computers, tablets and smartphones. However, among French students, only 21% see education moving in this direction, whereas 41% think the future of knowledge transmission lies in a combination of augmented teaching staff, robots and humans.

What’s clear is that new technologies must help Schools deliver a rich education, giving students greater flexibility and allowing teaching staff to concentrate more on their students.

It is therefore not surprising that the survey revealed a strong belief that remote learning will become more prevalent. Tomorrow’s teaching will be much more than a physical place with a course and a teacher – Schools and universities need to position themselves as platforms and not just as campuses.

Social concerns are rising among students

The survey also shows a high level of interest among students in the social issues of tomorrow. Therefore, it is imperative that the higher education industry reflects on how education can adapt to meet this need.

Quite commonly, the first concern of students is social inequality, closely followed by the preservation of the environment. Regarding these two issues, the proportion of interest among students are relatively unanimous at between 39% and 51% in every country surveyed. Elsewhere, priorities differ. There is a strong desire to raise awareness of gender inequalities in France (40%) and India (30%) but the equivalent figure among UK students is rather lower, at 21%.

When asked how education can help raise awareness of environmental conservation, the top answer among students in the US (cited by 44% of respondents in that country), South Africa (43%), India (41%) and the UK (40%) is ‘by funding and helping projects to preserve the environment’. The most popular response among those in France (cited by 35% of respondents in that country) meanwhile, was ‘by adapting its programmes’.

Higher education and the challenges of a changing world

Overall, students in all of the countries surveyed have a positive image of higher education. They judge higher education as being able to cope with the multiple challenges that are shaking up the economic environment and, more broadly, our societies.

Among the perceived strengths of the higher education system are the diversity of courses on offer and the variety of subjects taught, which guarantees openness and adaptability for the younger generations. But students in all locations point out two areas for improvement: being more international and linking better with economies.

Unsurprisingly, there are some differences between countries. For example, professional integration into economies is seen to be an area of strength in the UK education system (cited as such by 75%), and the US system (cited by 72%). An area for improvement for the US, meanwhile, is accessibility – only 42% of students polled in the North American country think that the education system is open to the largest number of people. The equivalent figure among students in South Africa is comparable, at 40%. These rates are much lower than those expressed in the UK (60%), India (77%) and France (50%).

The possibility of expatriation during studies: an asset for students

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically affected the number of international student exchanges that can take place, although what is reassuring is that the chance to study abroad during a course is still highly regarded among students and considered to be a real asset.

Of course, attitudes do differ. For example, around 30% of students in the UK and US think that spending part of their higher education course abroad is not a necessity, but this is only true for 13% of students in South Africa, 11% of students in France, and 9% of students in India.

Likewise, in response to the question: ‘Do you think that it is better for a student in your country to do all or most of their higher education abroad?’, students in France were almost unanimous – 85% gave positive responses. The equivalent figure among those in South Africa was also high, at 79%.  However, the proportion of positive responses from those in the UK, US and India were markedly lower, albeit still high enough to conclude that studying abroad is deemed as being important.

Commentary from EDHEC Business School, France.

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