Technology will play a big role in how the future Higher Education landscape evolves. Here’s just a few things that we can expect, and how they will impact on campuses, classrooms, courses, research and data.


As we look to the future it is inevitable that digital education will become even more important. We’ll see more online institutions, more MOOCs and more hybrids. The digital sky will become full of clouds saturated with learning opportunities. We’ll probably be able to access almost anything we want. However, there will still be a place for the physical campus. In fact, it’s likely to become an essential ingredient for students wanting a face-to-face learning experience, and remain a hub for partnerships and ground-breaking research.

But what will the future campus look like? Buildings will embrace technology to become environmentally more sustainable. Glass will multi-task to absorb the Sun’s energy and provide a new generation of campus screens. Recent inventions such as iBeacons will have developed into digital smart-maps, providing a real-time tour and story of everything. You may have already seen the ‘hover-board’ style transport that’s trending into 2016 – watch how that evolves as students whizz around campus. Or, maybe they’ll settle for the slides that are already in use in places like Munich’s Technical University.

But at the same time, digital connectivity will allow some providers to strip right back to basics, creating mobile campuses by accessing so much from the cloud, sharing facilities and even hosting seminars in the local Starbucks. Just as there will be those willing to pay for the shiny buildings, there will be those who prefer to get the price as low as possible.

Beyond the bricks and mortar (or glass and graphene) we’ll see new layers of digital infrastructure put into place. Institutions such as Purdue in the USA have already done this, introducing a whole range of smartphone and wearable app based technology to connect students with staff and each other and to encourage wider participation in teaching and learning on campus. Deakin in Australia have their own institution wide ‘Sync’ platform, integrating IBM’s ‘Ask Watson’, and across the city the University of Melbourne are now linking digitally with Tsinghua in China via their C-Campus.


Learning areas will change to absorb new technology. We’ll see better kit and 24/7 access. We’ll probably see more experiments in teaching methods as technology evolves. Some will call it disruption, but it will be welcomed by many. Universities are already using augmented reality in teaching, notably in doing things that were previously hard to do – practicing open-heart surgery springs to mind! Then there are the back-pack and remote-controlled labs, all enabled by technology, all enabling greater access as well as wider reach. And just imagine how educators can accelerate the ways they can help anyone, anywhere, no matter how remote or disadvantaged.

Tomorrow’s students are already digital natives and access to augmented and virtual reality is the least they’ll expect. They’ll have grown up on immersive, digital experiences – in the next 2 years taking giant steps into a whole new virtual gaming world. There are developments everywhere, ad some campuses are already alive with the hum of drones and the rhythm of 3D printing, whilst shared international Skype classrooms are increasingly going live.


Technological advancement will encourage new courses. Innovation will lead to a range of jobs we don’t even know exist yet – and courses will be required to feed them. Graphene, silicene, ferrofluids and self-healing concrete will all become the world’s new building blocks and related courses should emerge to lead the way. 3D printing will morph into 4D, and universities will need to keep pace. The global digital landscape will also insist on more skills in Big Data, Cybersecurity and other growth areas. Companies like IBM will continue to help shape global curricula. Technology platforms will help shape even more ‘Build Your Own’ courses in response to both niche and multi-disciplinary demands from industry. We’ll also see the rise of open source courses – almost a wiki-style absorbtion of the latest knowledge available.


Technology is big business. It will be a challenge for universities to lead innovation on their own. After all, they are now competing with Google’s multi-billion dollar X incubator and other similar commercial ventures. Expect to see institutions partner even closer with each other and with industry to ensure they have the scale and funding to succeed. Research will become even more multi-disciplinary. Health is just one area in which the convergence of technology and science is ensuring new approaches are established. The Social Web will become a great enabler for research as universities continue to crowdsource collaboration (Princeton’s Eyewire Project to map the brain is an excellent example) and funding. Kickstarter style platforms continue to thrive.

Data and Communication

The amount of data now available continues to rocket. Universities will harvest as much data as they can to help them predict applicant trends. Some will be more sophisticated, measuring course performance and feedback to enable better performance management and ongoing  improvements. We may even see a university putting data and customer experience at the heart of their experience – in a way not dissimilar to how Tesco uses its Clubcard in the UK. Students will embrace data more – notably in helping select the right pathways and in predicting their own outcomes.   We are waking up to a new world in which smart watches measure our fitness and sleep patterns – future students may just expect more control over their destiny.

Over 80% of the World’s online population are on smartphones, over 1.5 billion of them on Facebook, all contributing to a planet that is more closely connected than ever. More and more gets uploaded into the ‘clouds’ and new opportunities for education emerge. With so many blogs, Ted Talks, videos and courses available for free, it’s no surprise to see students already taking the DIY route to build their own education portfolios. However, for many it will soon be a case of information overload. And perhaps this is the biggest opportunity of all for universities – to take a lead, be the guardians of knowledge and to make sense of everything – all part of their raison d’être.

That’s just a flavour of things to watch out for. But there’s a lot more to the story. At the Future Index we work with clients to help them see the bigger picture and opportunity out there. We bring it all to life through our presentations. workshops and consulting. If you want to know more then please see us at , contact Jim Tudor at  or tweet us @futureindex.

This is an updated version of a blog that I wrote last year for UEA as part of their excellent, innovative UEA2030 consultation to plan their own future. Thanks to UEA for letting me share it again.