Living through an info revolution

University Business Managing Editor Hannah Oakman learns lessons for the future at the Ellucian ‘March to modernity’ conference

From the global race for talent to asking if big data really does provide big understanding, the recent Ellucian conference certainly raised some interesting questions for the world of higher education.

Held at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London, and billed as a conference for ‘thought leaders’, I had the pleasure of not only attending the event but also chairing a panel of industry experts to debate how we can continue to position the UK as a top study destination.

While the UK still attracts a large number of international students from across the globe, bringing an estimated £12 billion into the UK coffers, there is a sense that a growing complacency and issues around visas and the ‘welcome’ on offer, may soon start to have a detrimental effect. Couple that with increased marketing campaigns and investment from developing nations, such as Columbia which has recently invested around $6 billion in promoting itself as a study nation, it seems we have some work to do.

The conference offered a mixed bag of topics from the changing times in higher Education from Andy Westwood, Chief Executive of GuildHE, to the information revolution we are currently living through from Andy Youell, Director at Higher Education Data & Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP). The current UK political situation was a key theme throughout the day, with the 2014 European elections just around the corner.

Alan Mackay, Deputy Vice Principle and Director of the International Office at the University of Edinburgh, talked in depth about the phenomenal growth in students moving abroad to study and how this is only set to increase. As well as being a major exporter of foreign students, China is also now a significant host and boosting its higher education reputation as a result.  

Back on the panel, we had a lively debate on internationalism (among other things as these discussions do tend to throw up underlying issues) with expert opinion from million+ Chief Executive Pam Tatlow, University Alliance Head of Policy Liz Shutt and Daniel Stevens, International Students Officer at the NUS. It was very interesting to hear the combined views of a major think tank, university partnership body and student representative on this hot topic.

So what else did I learn? 

  • 60% of parents believe that £9K university fees are not good value – a worrying statistic for the future
  • There are a staggering 93 organisations collecting student data each year – with 512 data collections between them
  • The average MOOC user is middle-aged and already well educated to degree level – not the average undergraduate heading off to university

If the conference takes place at the same time next year, the UK will be on the cusp of a general election and, no doubt, changes in HE and internationalism will be high on the agenda. It will certainly be an interesting debate come 2015…

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