Generation Alpha: Everything universities need to know about the next decade’s freshers

Cross out the Xs, forget about the Ys (everyone else did) and as for the Zed’s, well, zzzzzzzzz. Alphas – the new generational cohort – are on their way, says Cris Warren.

The eldest of them might only be 11, but if you think you can fob them off with a pack of Haribo and the promise of a Hey Duggee binge, you might be in for a shock. Older generations have left them to their own devices – literally – and now the payback begins.

The data on them is still being crunched (and, predictably, what little there is is already coveted by marketeers with dollar signs in their eye) but, we do know they’re obsessed with AI, voice assistants, social media and wearables, and, via that technology and connectivity, are fast becoming a politically, socially and environmentally astute hive mind. And, come 2028, they’re going to start fetching up on campus. Here’s some facts that might help you prepare…

Talking about their generation

The term Generation Alpha was coined by Australian sociologist Mark McCrindle and covers the cohort of children born between 2010 and 2025.

Generally speaking, Alphas are the grandchildren of Generation X (born 1965–79), the kids of Generation Y (AKA millennials, AKA the difficult second album no one bought, born 1980–94) and the younger siblings and cousins of Generation Z (1995–2009).

Because McCrindle ran out of letters to name Gen Zed’s successors, he adopted the traditional meteorological nomenclature of hurricanes; whereby the Greek alphabet is used when the Latin one is exhausted.

This is the first generation born entirely in the 21st century, so it’s also no coincidence that the name conjures up images of a new epoch. Also, considering the technological confidence Alphas are seemingly born with, it has a kind of a cool swagger to it.

Since 2010, approximately 2.8 million Gen Alphas have been popped out per week. By the end of the first quarter of the 21st century just over two billion souls will be designated ‘Alpha’.

There’ll be over two billion Gen Alphas by 2025


“…don’t try dig what we all say”

The oldest of the cohort might be just pushing 11, but Generation Alpha are already mad as hell about perceived inactivity by older generations when it comes to the hot topics of today – the environment, social justice and racism.

A wide-ranging study by Beano Studios (you read that right, Dennis The Mennis has a highly regarded side-hustle consulting big business on Gens Xs through Alpha based on 80-plus years of readership data) found that 59% of the Alpha cohort think that solving the climate emergency is the top post-Covid priority but that 82% didn’t trust the government to do it.

Alphas simply don’t assume the responsibility for righting wrongs lies with adults. Instead, they use their socials to agitate the status quo, educate each other and organise protest.
The Beano study revealed that kids take part in nearly five million small acts of defiance a week including calling out racist and LGBQT+ comments made by adults and peers. Forty-eight per cent of the kids interviewed said they felt they did a better job of taking a stand against racism than their parents, teachers and politicians.

In spite of feeling they had to keep an auto-correct eye on old-school attitudes, 75% of Generation Alpha reported they felt close to their families, regularly listen to their parents’ advice and, said 62%, wished they could spend more time together.

Generation Alphas: They’re defiant and dynamic


A pain in the glass?

Joe Nellis, professor of global economy at Cranfield School of Management, says Gen Alphas are born to digital technology like it’s a fifth element of nature. Looking towards their university-and-beyond years, he reckons Alphas “…will be the wealthiest, the most intensely educated and most dynamic generation that human society has yet seen”.

Even now, Gen Alphas live, learn and communicate with each other almost entirely by swiping, scrolling and talking to the screens of their smartphones and tablets at home and the increasingly ‘connected’ classrooms and interactive displays at school.

It’s why some have taken to referring to Alphas as ‘Generation Glass’. Even though, to Xers, that just sounds like a Kim Wilde B side.

Call them what you will, but today’s Gen Alpha primary kids are already widely tipped by marketeers as tech-specialists kicking sand into the eyes of their digital-native Gen Z siblings.

Textbooks, still familiar to Gen Zed, say the marketeers, are looking increasingly moribund in Alpha schools (Alpha schools with proper funding, so rule out most state primaries).

The emphasis is now on fingers-on education, lessons in coding, AI and machine learning. And since they’ve already had a year of pandemic-enforced blended learning – where they’ve collaborated and communicated with their peers and teachers – they’ve had even more time to become expert in tech.

The enabling hardware for most kids was paid for by their parents and is dependent on their data-packages but, nonetheless, the genie is out of the bottle and blending online with face-to-face will undoubtedly be an expectation, rather than a crisis-cooked fudge, of a degree course by the end of the decade.

Forget about massive lectures, too. Alphas will want a mix of personalised tutorials, online modules and tech-enabled collaborative projects.

Go out and get ’em

Generation Alpha is already demonstrably more tech-savvy than any previous generation. They’re also predicted to be more entrepreneurial and pragmatic – creating their own employment niches.

With that in mind, university teachers and course writers should be consulting with their counterparts – and the kids – in nursery and primary schools now, in order to know what to expect from their Alpha cohorts, suggests American education consultant Karen Gross in her book, Breakaway Learners.

Gross argues that Gen Alpha’s journey to higher ed is almost entirely technology driven, and that even year 2s were getting stuck into coding.

She says universities are still too traditional, too white and stuck in their ways curriculum-wise; they just aren’t prepared for how different the Gen Alpha cohort are going to be.

Many will be from low-income backgrounds and represent the first member of their family to go to uni. Universities need to know that Gen Alphas are being educated – from nursery age, at school and at home – to be future-proof.

Alphas are environmentalists by nature and will want a university that backs up its green promises with actions


Environmental health

We’ve seen that Generation Alpha already considers climate activism as second nature.

Gen Zed took to the streets, Alphas are the next wave of environmental revolutionaries and can quote chunks of Greta’s Little Green Book verbatim.

Where they choose to invest their loans in 2028 is very likely to be influenced by the institution’s record of environmental sustainability

Where they choose to invest their loans in 2028 – the year the first wave of the cohort turn 18 – is very likely to be influenced by the institution’s record of environmental sustainability on campus.

It’s not enough that your 400 page, tree-worrying prospectuses will all be digital and fully interactive by 2028 (top marks to the University of Gloucestershire on being the first to introduce theirs, though), everything on campus – from catering (expect more emphasis on seasonal, locally grown food and lab-grown meat to entirely replace that which once had a face, on campus menus) to waste management to powering institutions with energy produced on campus – will need to be thoroughly sustainable.

Many British universities have pledged to be carbon zero by 2030. Is their money where their mouths are? They can rest assured that Gen Alphas will be checking.

The education revolution should be televised

Generation Alpha will expect a significant percentage of the curriculum to be online.

Universities need to become their own broadcasters, offering course-specific channels

Universities need to become their own broadcasters, offering course-specific channels, with a commissioning and production process, to accommodate the sheer amount of content that will be required.

It shouldn’t require a huge investment. There are more BA (Hons) television production courses in UK universities than you can shake a boom-mic stick at.

Universities don’t need to outsource content production – they’ve got the kit, they’ve got the studios and edit suites. More importantly they have the production teams that belong to the generation they are creating content for.

Savvy unis should make it part of the course that production students have a practical term developing, producing and shooting content for the uni’s own bespoke TV channels – perhaps overseen by visiting TV professionals. It’s hands on and deep-end experience that’s great for a young film-maker’s portfolio.

Lectures with more than one super-wide shot of a lone figure on stage; as-live experiments with macro and high-speed shooting; expert interviews without the awkward umms and ahhs; debates with proper attention to the drama and sound; and lessons interspersed with archive – all could be shot and cut ‘in-house’ featuring the sort of high production and editorial values you might expect of television.


Under the influencers

Online influencers are key to shaping the tastes and preferences of Alphas.

Recent polling by Wunderman Thompson of Alpha kids found that over half of their respondents said they wanted to buy something if their favourite YouTube or Instagram star is using, wearing or consuming it.

“The influence of social media content only becomes stronger as children grow older,” the report found, “with 13–16-year-olds three times more likely (32%) to say that social media posts influence their purchasing decisions than 6–9-year olds (9%) and twice more likely than 10–12-year olds (15%).”

Social media is also a self-perpetuating machine, with children tagging each other on social platforms, so they in turn can be influenced. “Forty-one per cent of kids tag their friends on Instagram if they see something they might buy.”

To Gen Alphas, universities are just another form of lifestyle brand.

Now might be the time for you to start talent-scouting current students and aspirational alumni in the public eye in order to launch influencers of your own.

You might also like: Sustainability in HE: Greta Expectations

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