A glimpse of the future: Living and Learning 2034

The report Living and Learning in 2034 produced by the UNITE Students and the University Alliance is a bold attempt to map out the possible future shape of higher education in twenty years time. CUBO chair, Frances Stone, discusses some of the findings.

Given that the government funding for higher education is difficult to predict even five years down the line then twenty years hence seems like a big ask. Perhaps in the same way that George Orwell’s 1984 was actually thought to represent 1948 the dystopian or utopian viewpoints the report raises may actually have relevance for a much shorter timescale.

The report suggests that in 2034 “digital technologies are integrated into everyday life” and by implication that we need to be able to service this demand. In a recent presentation regarding how students use technology it was suggested that already students are using four different devices to support their learning and that many student areas in the United States have the facility to support nine devices.

The report also considers how students might be interacting with one another in 2034. Imagining four different scenarios, in one it suggests that students are continuing to enjoy downtime and socialising even in a utilitarian setting of a university in a stagnating economy and part of a competitive society, but that the social element of the university is severely diminished. The recent Sodexo/Times Higher Education survey suggests that far from being a distant prospect that day may have arrived. The survey gave an average amount of time spent by students in face to face socialising as one hour per day, down from five hours per day a few years ago.

Surveys and data are of course dangerous things. The NUS survey on the state of student housing in the UK, Homes fit for study, seeks to establish how comfortable students are with different accommodation types. In answer to the question “To what extent do you agree, if at all with the following statement – my accommodation feels like home” only 93% of students living in the family home answered agree or strongly agree.

To be fair Living and Learning 2034 is about promoting discussion and does not claim to be a blueprint for the future, but 20 years seems like a long way off. If we go back 20 years and look at a period which has seen profound and radical changes to the funding and structure of higher education exactly how much has really changed? Students are still looking for the same basic things from their accommodation as they were in 1994. It needs to be at the most basic level a roof, warmth, the ability to feed oneself or be fed and a secure environment. In 1994 the wow factor might have been a telephone in your room, today it is Wi-Fi, in 2034 it will be something else and we will be providing it. However it will be reached by evolution and not revolution. Yes the offer we make will need to change, but the challenge will always be to provide accommodation for a market that until about 2 weeks into the autumn term is of an unknown size.

Mark Allan the CEO of UNITE Students, who was involved in producing the report is one of the speakers at the CUBO Annual Conference taking place at Royal Holloway from 2nd to 4th July. UNITE Students are also providing sponsorship for the event and I look forward to hearing what Mark has to say.