No. 46




Trends and Possible Scenarios in Higher Education

14 December 2022


RiTo No. 46, 2022

Reforms in education are provoked by four main development trends – new technologies, personalisation, internationalisation, and change in societal expectations. Technology-based business models are coming to the forefront, complementing the contemporary education landscape but also competing with it. The broader introduction of non-academic certificates blurs the lines between higher education and other types of post-secondary education.

The growing importance of lifelong learning also leads to diversification among students. An increasing percentage of students do not come straight from the secondary school – in Estonia, the 25+ age group has grown among the students by more than ten per cents in ten years. This creates the expectation that higher education should mould itself to a variety of lifestyles and preferences. However, more tailored approaches lead to additional costs, at least at the outset.

Despite the setback of the corona pandemic, higher education is turning increasingly international. Elevated prominence in given to partnerships between higher education institutions and curricula of different countries, and to international massive open online courses, or MOOCs. Internationalisation opens market opportunities for Estonia’s higher education institutions but also intensifies competition from the online courses and learning environments of top universities.

Higher education institutions are expected to lend a hand in managing the response to massive social changes and in problem solving – both when faced with global challenges, such as the climate crisis, or in evolving local economies and living environments.

The two factors that have emerged as the most instrumental in shaping the face of Estonia’s higher education are the role of digital technology in teaching and the role of the higher education institutions in lifelong learning. There are possible different development avenues available to both, which partly depend on the choices of the state. These key factors were taken as the basis for three possible scenarios.

In the national lifelong learning scenario, the government creates advantages for higher education institutions on the continuing training market, the institutions diversify learning opportunities, and receiving an education will become easier for working students. Fee-paying continuing training brings in additional revenue and leads higher education institutions to growth both in terms of the numbers of students and teachers.

In the elite higher education scenario, competition on the lifelong learning landscape is strictly market-based; other providers of education respond more flexibly, gain a market share, and fill the tasks of higher education institutions in several fields. This causes the higher education institutions to contract, and the sector as a whole to shrink.

In the virtual university scenario, learning becomes digitised both in content and in form, and its reach is considerably more global than today. Higher education institutions offer courses to digital platforms but their profitability is restricted by the rules of play of the platform. Public funding for higher education remains at the current level, ensuring only essential studies and studies that are more difficult to digitise.