« TEACH LESS, LEARN MORE »: 2017 HIGHER EDUCATION LEADERS ASIA FORUM WAS MARKED BY DEMOGRAPHIC SHOCKS AND THE UNAVOIDABLE TRANSFORMATION OF MODELS.

This short sentence sounded like a punchline in the 2017 edition of the Higher Education Leaders Asia Forum, February 28th and March 1st in Kuala Lumpur. Around Chairman Pierre Tapie, questions of demographic shocks, major institutional and pedagogical transformations and the marketing of higher education have been widely asked.

This year’s Forum pattern allowed a large number of speakers, 27 in total. Participants were representing 9 countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Oman. Except the event sponsor Ellucian (computer services company specialized in higher education) and Paxter, all participants were academics from the Asia-Pacific area.

DEMOGRAPHY MATTERS

Paxter’s NEXT15 study, providing 15-year projections of student demographics around the world, inclluding the Asia-Pacific area, served as the basis for Pierre Tapie’s lecture « How can your institution prepare the Next 15 years in the age of demographic and digital disruption? »

 While each academic has sought to outline the winning strategy of their own institution, the general atmosphere of the forum was clearly putting up the current vulnerability of higher education institutions in a « VUCA world »: « Volatile, Uncertain, Complex And Ambiguous World ». In a highly competitive environment, with very variable demographic forecasts from one country to another, the growing trend is to apprehend the education system as a business, directly influenced by market fluctuations.

Many officials have already noted the demographic decline expected by PAXTER in some countries, and the opportunities in others: attracting foreign students thus becomes a major stake for them. The threat of a disappearance hangs over a bunch of institutions, and for students, this question in mind: what is the value of the diploma when a school could disappear? In fact, governments, including the most traditional ones, no longer can keep running on without a clear strategy and healthy management. Of course, the path will not be the same, whether one is a traditional or a new university.

UNIVERSITY INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS

The financial weakness of institutions in the region, especially in Malaysia, was openly discussed. It seems that the only two historical funding tracks (government grants + tuition fees) are increasingly a matter of debate: Does it reinforce or weaken a school to diversify resources ? Are we losing our core identityso doing ?

Between public and private universities, several levels of financial supports exist, but the great trend is the withdrawal of governments grants (with the exception of the Singapore’s public universities). Mixed models, business partnerships, incubators, research chairs … Several possibilities are now explored by universities to work with companies and improve their economic models, and will certainly have consequences on the way these Institutions work.

Reflection on partnerships often seems to be held in an emergency context. Institutions, especially public ones, seem to be in need of more information and investment capacity to transform their model. However, since the return on investment of such  partnerships is not instantaneous, the two parties will have to build a global project together, just as the French Grandes Ecoles have been doing for a long time. These types of well-known partnerships in France seem to be emerging in minds of the Asia-Pacific area’s academics.

NEW PEDAGOGIES FOR NEW NEEDS

Representatives from several countries, expressed their difficulties in matching the needs of enterprises with the academic offer. Employability has been approached very pessimistically.

Thus, more and more academic institutions are now interested in new educational trends, including the more traditional ones. They need to define new skills for young people, to match with a universe where half of the next 15 years’ trades do not exist today. This urgency is summed up on all lips with this strap line: « Teach less, learn more », putting experience and development of « non cognitive skills » on top of new academic concerns.

The issue of digital transformation has been also put on the table: the new cohorts of students are all digital natives and they want to meet a satisfying offer from schools and institutions. Moocs and student portals are now seen like a classic package that has to be overcome.

TEACHING IN A VUCA WORLD

These are major changes, with major impact on professors’ required skills (On this topic, also see our post « HOW COULD NEW MEDIA BE THE RESEARCHER’S NEW PATHS OF GLORY ? », published last February on www.educationmatters.blog). Institutions must adapt their human resources policies (Teacher training, new support services, new evaluation models, etc.).

What kind of professor will universities need tomorrow ? Mixed faculty models are already operating in Europe, with fewer permanent professors and more speakers from the industry world. Besides the traditional full professors and researchers (guaranteeing theorical knowledge), people are now hired to join the university after a significant professional experience. For instance, the famous IMD business school in Switzerland recruits well-paid 50/55 y-o experts who will teach for 5 to 10 years and will be replaced.

Beyond those broadly held questions, we must retain the actual and obvious dynamism of Asian actors in the higher education sector. If companies and / or academic institutions in France wanted to establish themselves in this area of the world (where various schools are already operating, mostly British and Australian), the crucial steps they should be very careful of would be the originality of the positioning, the choice of the partner and Geographical location.

All these changes are important and have brought new questions to the attention of the 2017 Higher Education Leaders Asia Forum, underlining that, in this unrestrained « VUCA world », the most successful universities will be the ones combining great agility in Teachings and methods, and an ability to empower and preserve excellence on a few specific topics.

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