Declining fertility rates and ageing demographics mean the global population base for young people of tertiary student age remained broadly stable in recent years, and is expected to rise only marginally from now until 2021. Despite this, global enrollment rates in the tertiary sector have increased rapidly, driven by higher demand from emerging markets, where incomes are growing and many students are choosing to study abroad. In addition, there has been growing demand for adult learning as population’s age and online courses improve. Here are the top three trends in higher education.
A surge in student mobility
Student mobility increased significantly in recent decades, largely as a result of globalisation. In 2017, around 5.0 million students were studying abroad, which was more than twice the level in 2000 (2.1 million), and more than triple the level in 1990. This trend is set to continue. For many leading destination countries, education is an important export. The US attracted an incredible 916,000 foreign students in 2016, up 29% from 2011. The UK has traditionally been a very popular destination for international students, and their percentage rose from 17% in 2011 to 19% in 2016. However, the UK’s increasingly stringent visa regulations (the two-year grace period for foreign students to seek employment was revoked in 2008), has reduced the number of students from Asia Pacific. European countries are increasing the number of English taught programmes in order to attract more foreign students. Germany has picked up some of the UK’s shortfall, having recently announced an initiative to waive tuition fees for international students. Combined with the country’s reputation for strong technology, the package now offered by Germany is considered so attractive that students are no longer deterred by the language barrier.
Growth of distance learning
A growing number of teaching institutions and students are embracing qualifications that are delivered entirely or mainly over the internet rather than on campus, including MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). This trend has been driven by several factors, including the tightening of visa conditions in some markets (such as the UK); teaching establishments attempting to reach overseas markets; advances in teaching technology; the growing credibility of online degrees; and a lack of opportunities for tertiary education in some markets (in 2017, there was a massive 70% jump in registrations of Indian users on MOOC provider Coursera).
In the US, enrollment in distance education courses reportedly rose for the 14th consecutive year in 2016, and is expected to continue growing, thanks mostly to the professional degree programmes facilitated by public institutions. The share of US students choosing online learning as their primary study mode grew to 49% as tuition fees increased. The forthcoming Higher Education Reauthorization Act should increase the emphasis on adult and continuing education, thus resulting in even more intense development of the distance learning segment.
The shift to adult learning
With populations ageing and the development of more and more flexible options for learning (including the development of MOOCs), many older adults are choosing to retrain or study in the hope of finding a new purpose or follow a new career in their later life. In Japan, online courses for both personal improvement and job skills have recently seen growth, as mid-lifers try to stay competitive in a challenging marketplace; while in Australia, the number of people aged over 45 starting courses at TAFE (the country’s biggest provider of vocational education and training) rose by 15% between 2010 and 2014, to 20,231. In the UK, the University of the Third Age (U3A) was formed in the 1980s, encouraging groups of older people to continue their enjoyment of learning. It currently has more than 1,000 groups with a total of over 400,000 members.
In absolute terms, China and India have the biggest student bases, and are also among the fastest growth markets for tertiary education. By contrast, student numbers fell in the US and UK, where tuition fees are prohibitively high. The main problem facing marketers is that students tend to be on a very tight budget, with low disposable income. They prioritise things such as technology, convenience, value and experience, and are receptive to targeted offers. Digital technology will continue to impact the way people learn, and teaching establishments and students will increasingly embrace qualifications delivered over the internet rather than on campus.