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Future Worlds

These four future worlds were crafted based largely in the research (the Future Reviews). They are four future worlds that moved on one axis between open and closed systems, and human-led and technology-led on another. These four future worlds were outputs distilling a large amount of HE futures research, implicitly a challenge to the misconception that “there is an inevitable future to which we must simply adapt or resist” (Facer & Sandford, 2010). They were used in design workshops as thought experiments to identify how the values of the University of Edinburgh would render in the future using these future world constraints.

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Future World 1: Human-Led and Closed

Higher education expansion policies in emerging economies, intensification of global competition for international students and tighter immigration controls radically reduce the numbers of international and EU students coming to study in the UK, despite a global rise in demand for higher education. Universities are under pressure to expand provision to new parts of the domestic population, to develop lifelong programmes and to devise new ways to reach international students.

Future World 2: Human-Led and Open

Intensified effects of climate change result in accelerated movements of populations and increasing food and water insecurity. Rapid global mobilisation to support sustainable change impacts industry, government and society. A backlash against insularity opens borders and increases immigration to parts of the UK. The government introduces staggered tuition fees based on ability to pay, opening up higher education to new sectors of the domestic and immigrant population.

Future World 3: Tech-Led and Closed

Automation of many types of manual and professional work prompts greater global demand for higher education as a route to advanced skills and knowledge, while a lack of meaningful employment for large portions of the population threatens to dramatically increase wealth inequality. The emphasis of higher education shifts toward creative, critical problem solving and social skills as science disciplines increasingly converge with the creative arts and humanities. There is a move from content and curriculum to university as an ‘experience’.

Future World 4: Tech-Led and Open

The boundaries between employment, education and retirement become looser. The decline in part-time study reverses and education over a lifetime has become the norm for the increasingly ageing population. Universities are no longer the main provider of higher education, as options to study become available from specialised private and industry sources, open platforms and systems which directly link individual tutors and students in a new economy of provision. Earning a degree becomes less important as badges and micro- credentials become respectable markers of educational value.