Higher education – in pursuit of the ‘right’ evolutionary model

The job market in the world has been experiencing profound transformation. In our era of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, sizable opportunities for economic development and societal advancement are in place, along with a set of grave challenges that have emerged jeopardizing job security and future prosperity of millions of people. As an impact, it is expected that 2 in 3 of current schoolchildren will work in entirely new jobs that are not in place today.

The overall outcome shall depend on the ability of the market participants to effectively embrace the emerging trends, implement necessary educational reforms and transform business processes. In this context, universities globally have been exercising significant efforts to discover the probable path of future developments and the scope and scale of the anticipated impact.

Nevertheless, while higher education has been increasingly aligning with economic growth landscape, its future path is still noticeably uncertain. Education sector still remains the global economy sector with the largest inertia in the midst of the rapid technological and economic growth that the world has experienced in the last decades.

So what is going in the global higher educational sector today?

Overall, the advancement of technologies and internationalization have shifted the pattern of delivery and accessibility, exposing to increasing external challenges and opportunities.

Mission of higher education is perceived to be transforming alongside the change – universities aim at nurturing fully empowered citizens for the benefit of the larger society. In this context, study becomes more diverse-disciplined, clustering allied departments with increasing contextualization (project based learning). This leads to curriculum modularity – larger occurrence of horizontal and vertical integration of modules along with regular unbundling and rebundling of curriculum. Research shares similar developments with inter-disciplinary accent on trend.

Learning becomes more blended with student-driven and personalized features and flexibility in student learning trajectory. Online learning, on-campus informal experience and alternate credentialing are further leveraged by lifelong learning program opportunities. In developing economies, the number of both local and outgoing students is impacted by growing demography of youth further leveraged by improving living standards. On the contrary, in developed countries, increased proportion of elder population in university enrollment has been on growth.

Internationalization in education is on rise with the resulted diversity acting as increasing funding source, particularly with regard to students from developing countries. Higher education exports increasingly position the economy as a knowledge and innovation platform with significant potential of contributing to GDP.

Growing internationalization has also sharpened rivalry between countries to engage international students and between universities – for compliance, reputation and funding. Intensified rivalry between universities calls for providing for enriched student experience. Internationalization of both teaching and research has been growing. The increasing public and private funding guide universities to behave in a more accountable fashion with regard to the education quality.

What is in for Armenia? The future setting of higher education

The international landscape of higher education varies on a range of features, yet converges towards certain common global trends. Armenia shall closely follow this to embrace the anticipated gains and position itself on a global educational map.

Nowadays, when countries and societies experience fundamental socio-economic transformation, universities in Armenia have unprecedented opportunity to move to the next level of development and produce high-quality human capital for Armenia.

Importantly, those choices shall be aligned with country-level development strategy and economic growth. Higher education shall be largely positioned by the government as enabler for creating / developing internationally competitive clusters, and an important lever for national progress and economic growth. Nevertheless, publicly funded universities shall stay largely autonomous while taking into consideration state priorities. A handful of smart universities can take proactive steps of educating and forming demand in the local job market.

Higher education shall increasingly be linked with the industry, science and technologies. Universities shall increasingly position the collaboration with the industry as solid opportunity for enhancement of research capacities and revenue expansion. This is in the light of increasing globalization, where businesses come up with novel demand for higher education regarding the knowledge stock and skillset of labor force of the future. Strategic partnerships shall be formed with industry-informed research agenda, nurturing blended entrepreneurship spirit throughout the university environment.

Overall, accelerating online education, larger collaboration between academia and industry will increasingly lead to blurring of boundaries in higher education. This shifts the focus from institutions to learning ecosystem and integrative learning. Resources, relationships and roles will be increasingly recast.

STEM areas are likely to be key to drive innovation that fuel economic growth and international competitiveness. Herein, STEM students are increasingly anticipated to master foreign languages and soft skills, previously associated with Humanities & Social Science as well as interdisciplinary knowledge to support broad thinking. This is in the context of preparing graduates with wider skillset required to participate and shine in contemporary world economy and learning-driven society.

University funding shall need larger diversification – broader revenue bases, diminishing proportion of state funding, increasing research-sourced money and introduction of endowment financing.

Overall, just like globally, unclear development trajectory in higher education shall assume constant pursuit by the Armenian universities of the ‘right’ track for strategic development and sustainability roadmap.

And the last but not the least, the drivers of higher education and overall progress – the youth, shall follow the ‘start-up of you’ thinking. While the market participants can influence/guide education process, it shall be the personal responsibility of an individual to adopt constant learning mode while navigating through the increasingly uncertain and complex world.

By Hovhannes Atabekyan, Manager