Emerging Trends and Challenges in Higher Education

We all know the indispensable role of education at all levels in life. In his Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela mentioned the role of education in changing society.  He said education is one of the most powerful tools we can use to transform society. People gain knowledge and enlarge their worldview through education. Education provides jobs, skills, knowledge, critical knowledge needed for societal development and advancement, and enriches society. Fact is, a nation cannot develop without a literate population. And in today’s world, the role of education has become even more vital.

Higher education makes a significant contribution to national economic growth and socio-economic development. While there are many trends in education today, this article examines a few of the latest trends in higher education today.

Unbundling and microcredentialing is one of the emerging trends in higher education. Under this model, emphasis has shifted away from college degrees to the acquisition of certificates, credentials and job-related curricula. Students may no longer be looking to pursue entire degree programmes but shorter programmes that specifically target skills and competencies needed to fill vacant jobs.

Use of mobile apps to provide education is another new trend in higher education. The increase in the non-traditional student population who are looking for flexibility to pursue their education is one of the factors driving this trend. Thus, the campus experience is being recreated through apps and other technology that allows the non-traditional student to feel a part of the campus community. This trend is giving rise to the use of augmented and virtual reality as a recruiting and teaching tool in some institutions of higher learning.

Globalisation is another trend affecting higher education. There is much more cross-border higher education – institutions in one country providing education to students in other countries. This has led to the emergence of what has become known as Transnational Education (TNE). This generally refers to situations where students stay in their home country but study for degrees from abroad. It has been defined as the provision of education for students based in a country other than the one in which the awarding institution is located.

TNE is distinct from the standard forms of international student mobility where a student from one country goes to study in another country in order to undertake a degree or course of study, or where the international student is briefly mobile, e.g., on a semester-based exchange or short-term study programme. In the TNE space, the concern is with educational service arrangements or courses of study, in which learners are located in a country different from the one where the awarding institution is based.

The technological age provides several avenues for acquiring education through a number of channels. Educational technologies, for example, have revolutionalized the four walled notion of the classroom.

The impact of the new technologies have given birth to a plethora of new terms such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online courses), xMOOCs (eXtended Massive Open Online courses), cMOOCs (Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses), and others. MOOCs and their cousins are only one part of a wave of innovation in higher education, affecting both pedagogy and mode of delivery.

New learning systems such as distance education, hybrid or blended learning, flipped classroom, mobile learning, and e-learning have also emerged.

The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement has emerged to provide freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching and learning. The term was first coined to designate “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. It is said to be the leading trend in distance and open learning domain as a consequence of the openness movement.

Higher education itself is changing. Education has now become an on-going part of life. This has led to the notion of life-long learning. This calls for the development of new systems of delivery, and the creation of new and expanded areas of scholarship to meet new educational needs in a rapidly changing and increasingly interdependent world.

Today, network portals have emerged to provide educators with a central point from which to access various educational tools, And, pedagogical changes have emerged due to the use of information technology in higher education. We now have the technology to provide education to countless number of people who would otherwise have gone without it. The digital age gives us the capability to communicate with anyone, anywhere at a very rapid speed. 

The digital age has made it possible for virtual collaboration, the use of technology to bring people together to achieve their goals using both asynchronous and synchronous tools such as electronic mail, calendars, links and bulletin boards, streaming media, narrated slideshows, the Web, audio or/and video conferencing.

There is a saying that if a society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. We need to increase the general educational level of all of our people. Thus we need more and better education at all levels, primary, secondary, tertiary. And more nonformal education and opportunities for those in remote rural villages to get the knowledge that will help them endure and improve their lot.

Today, we have become a global learning society. As such, our educational systems must become a primary vehicle for assisting learners to become successful citizens of the world- a world that demands new knowledge, new thoughts, new frameworks for problem-solving, and new ways of caring for one another.

With these trends in higher education, the future of teaching and learning is happening faster than we can imagine. Let us embrace the changing role of higher education in the 21st century and use it to undertake a radical transformation of our educational system.

Nana Prof. Osei K. Darkwa, President

African Virtual Campus

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