Next Generation Higher Education: Redefining Learning & Skills for the Future of Work

The purpose of higher education is constantly evolving to meet the changing needs of society and the economy. In the past, higher education was seen primarily to prepare people for careers in specific fields.

However, as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, the role of higher education is shifting. Today, higher education develops well-rounded, critical thinkers who can contribute to society in various ways.

Southeast Asia is experiencing rising economic prosperity and a growing business population. The challenge is ensuring that higher education faculties are working to support the diverse needs of the regional community while delivering world-class higher education.
A recent article by McKinsey Asia highlighted the challenges, “given the job market challenges as well as the lingering pandemic-induced financial constraints, Higher Education Institutions may need to adapt how they do business to ensure they are sustainable into the future. Rethinking the approach to higher education could ensure that Higher Education Institutions respond to the increasing demand for postsecondary education and the need to develop the skills required by the economy and instil a culture of lifelong learning.”

This shift was accelerated by recent events, such as the Covid pandemic, which have highlighted the need for flexibility and creativity in all aspects of life and to support a new post covid working environment. And as businesses struggle to adapt to these changes, they are increasingly looking for employees with the skill set to meet these new expectations -which often means investing in education. Higher education institutions are building a new suite of programmes that support ‘new skills’ while providing more flexible and innovative learning methods that prepare students for success in a rapidly changing world and suit a more diverse group of people.

Alex Gardner-McTaggart, Academic Theme Lead at the University of Manchester Worldwide (UMW), comments, “With the upheaval that was thrown our way, culturally, economically, environmentally – particularly during these past years – many people are ready for change rather than a return to the status quo. Here is an exciting opportunity for education leaders to rewrite education rules and create a radically better future for people and business across Southeast Asia.”

UMW – Our Five Principles for Next Generation Higher Education

Listen to your audience.

To create successful learning, universities first need to listen to and understand the needs of future businesses and students before diving into programme creation. At UMW, we aim to provide a centre of teaching excellence and innovative research underpinned by social responsibility. However, our potential audience has a lot to consider before investing in learning in this current climate of economic, financial, and environmental uncertainty.

The first step is connecting with the audience and understanding their goals. Ask questions – What kind of outcome do they hope to have? What specific skills and knowledge will they need to accomplish this? What environment do they want to study in – online, offline, or a combination?

At UMW, we work closely with regional companies – crafting courses that respond to their training needs, business goals, tech requirements, the ever-changing learning landscape, and regional market. Stuart Wells, AMBS Executive Education at UMW, works closely with regional partners to understand the nuanced challenges across different businesses. He says, “big companies are battling legacy systems and don’t have that embedded tech know-how that comes with smaller, more agile companies. Therefore, the training needs of the employees are different. And the learning needs are different. And they are constantly evolving. Understanding these needs and putting the right processes and structure in place. And Manchester is well placed for this because we spend time listening and responding.”

Listening helps identify the gaps with the intention of structuring courses around the practical needs of individual customers, so the response is a programme and learning practices that reflect the business world and a real-world focus that help people navigate global challenges.

Take Bold Action.

According to the recent article by Mckinsey, the future of higher education may call for “bold action” from institutions. However, what does bold action entail in reality? To begin with, a next-gen university must ensure that students receive flexibility and that learning techniques are firmly founded on the principle that education is more than simply about learning but also embracing diversity, inclusion, and humanity at its most profound level. Providing a teaching experience that accommodates diverse groups of students ensures that every student can learn. At UMW, we believe that ‘bold action’ is about placing humanity at the core of learning.

The programmes and pedagogy were developed in this spirit of social responsibility by Alex Gardner-McTaggart, Academic Theme Lead at UMW. He believes that “the power of the University lies in rethinking how education may provide actual change rather than simply obtaining better jobs. We offer an education tailored to each person by allowing a variety of learning modalities.” This idea is firmly entrenched in UMW’s history and is the University’s third pillar of social engagement and responsibility.

Lean into your track record.

As one of the first universities to think about and design a curriculum fit for online and face-to-face, UMW has always been a leader in blended learning– a rich mix of online and face-to-face education learning. Because UMW already had some of the best online programmes, they could transition smoothly and effectively when covid hit. According to Alex Gardner-McTaggart, “everything was moved online clumsily in many cases when Covid happened, but because Manchester has a track record or ‘blended by design,’ we were ready for this.”

Many universities have now adopted the idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ where students are no longer passive but can engage online with learning materials and peers anytime and anywhere. At UMW, we have an outstanding track record of delivering blended, online, and transnational teaching and a rich heritage in this space. Programmes designed to challenge students and help them to develop essential skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork will form the basis of next-generation learning.

And UMW has an unmatched track record of working with businesses to deliver a fully tailored and flexible approach because leaders who can’t keep up with the changing world will be left behind. That’s why UMW considers the whole learning experience and provides several flexible learning programs that prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce through immersive experiences, broad-based education & international collaboration.

Build a distinct and flexible approach.

Students are looking for a university with educational technology and programmes that support learning – and if classes are engaging, interactive, and accessible, this should help them enjoy them more. But the benefit for students goes beyond the basics of flexibility. It must extend to the lecturer’s skillset in using technology to provide inspiring teaching that appeals to diverse students. At UMW, because the pedagogy is tailored to the medium and the mode, higher education must always consider different ways people interact when learning. For example, if teaching face to face, the way a question is structured will elicit a response sequence different from online due to different attention spans. When we are face to face, we read each other’s micro gestures all the time. “When online, an amazingly colourful coral garden of human interaction ceases to exist, so we need to find different ways to engage humans or pick up their smartphones on the bus,” is how Alex Gardner-McTaggart describes the experience.

Providing online and face-to-face learning opportunities can give all our students the best possible chance to succeed. Former MBA student Glenn Carney says, “I benefitted no end from the flexible, workshop-based approach of the degree. What attracted me in the first place was precisely this flexibility in managing workshops around my packed schedule while still providing face-to-face teaching, group work, and networking opportunities.”

At UMW, the curriculum caters to the working person with authentic blended learning that allows flexibility for working parents who have the benefit of designing their timetable. They can study at their own pace with fully portable courses, and by providing a mix of learning opportunities, universities can help our students to reach their full potential.

Inki Kim, an Executive Coach, sums it up, “because the programme offers great flexibility for time-starved students like me who could not attend classes on weekday nights. I found the workshop experience extremely applicable to real-life. Every subject came with practices featuring actual cases, which other group members and I would attempt to solve, then presented to professors and peers.”

Make learning a journey… not an end goal.

People are consistently telling us that education looks different than it used to. It’s no longer about amassing more and more degrees or teaching some arbitrary finish line. Today, success is defined on one’s terms, and we have traded the race to the top of the mountain for the journey’s joy. Modern education and the experience of learning are as much about discovery and finding what value you can offer to the world. And as talent shortages grow worldwide, institutions and enterprises must chart partnerships that equip learners with employable skills. 

For Richard Cotton, International Development Director, UMW, leadership, and learning are about the constant evolution and the “building & adapting the higher education experience based on the audience and global needs.”

The most successful business leaders take a long-term view and focus on building consistency in their learning. At UMW, we deliver consistency through the portability of programmes designed to provide the same experience, academy, and learning goals for students worldwide, making it easy to extend your learning journey wherever you are.

Richard Cotton is passionate about building a more engaged community in SEA. He views education as a journey and “looks to campuses to advise on what is and isn’t working in the region” so “we can build programmes to suit a globally represented audience.”

In addition, UMW works closely with its partners to constantly refresh electives with new topics that respond to the workplace plan – while combining insights from the more comprehensive university network to shape the direction of programmes. These diverse new electives include – work psychology for managerial success, managing disruptive technologies, fintech, digital banking and digital strategy, entrepreneurship and innovation management, and platform ecosystem strategy.

Courses designed to provide real-world scenarios that allow students to apply their knowledge and skills in a practical setting will best serve the new generation of higher education students. This approach allows them to keep up with the ever-changing landscape and adapt their businesses to new challenges. At UMW, we prepare our students for this approach by providing a comprehensive education that stays with them throughout their careers. 

The active alumni network is invaluable, providing support, mentoring, and advice to students navigating the business world. By taking a long-term view of learning, our students can build successful careers that have a lasting impact.

A Constant Quest (Conclusion)

The mission for higher education institutions is changing in tandem with the new demands on the workplace, with reach, impact, and relevance is as crucial as ever. As the business landscape in Asia continues to evolve, so too do the needs of employees. Companies are increasingly looking for employees with the skills and knowledge to help them navigate various work needs, from social responsibility and sustainability to digital transformation.

By rethinking traditional pedagogy and introducing new learning practices, universities can improve student experiences and engage with the world beyond classroom hours. As the world increasingly focuses on critical issues like healthcare and sustainability, Singapore is often at the forefront, recognised for its leadership and contributions. By continuing to invest in next-generation higher education, we are supporting the growth of our societies and playing a role in shaping the world’s future.

Scroll to Top