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The Future of Universities: Capability, capacity and expertise

Ken Sloan, Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Warwick

Published in June 2013

What’s next for universities? With the sector diversifying into online learning, not to mention the many varied opportunities offered by further and higher education colleges, it’s become harder to say what a university will look like in the future. In March 2013, leading academics and experts, organisations, and international student leaders at Warwick Universities Summit 2013 tackled the issue of universities in 2025. Speakers from across the sector discussed topics such as funding and widening access, and what the value of the global public university should be in a rapidly developing world. Here, Ken Sloan, Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Warwick gives his views.

Ken Sloan

What do you think is the most underhyped, yet significant change UK universities will undergo in the next decade?

I think that the biggest thing is the attitude of the incoming student market to modes of study. Everyone has automatically jumped onto e-learning-based ideas: MOOCs and all these various channels but what they are talking about is another 'channel' in the sense that historically higher education has had multiple channels of delivery, from very intense face-to-face through to totally distant. I think that the biggest change is that the majority of the student population will be aware of the full range of channels and, therefore, will feel like they can make choices between those channels.

So, where as previously different channels were thought of with certain aspects of the student community in mind, now people will be tipping out of the school systems and undergraduate programmes into graduate programmes expecting to be able to access higher education in whatever form they think is suitable for them at the time.

How do you see the role of universities changing in support of economic growth?

It depends which way around we express the equation; are universities responding to growth or are universities partnering and creating in the establishment of growth? If universities are driving growth then their relationship with the sectors through which that growth will be channelled need to be clear, need to be resilient, need to be flexible. So one of the questions is whether universities have geared themselves up to take on that type of thought leadership role.

As an aside, one should ask the question, when companies and corporates, and other organisations are investing in growth for their future and investing currently in economic growth, what proportion of investment are they channelling through universities? That might give you an indication as to the extent to which they recognise universities as part of that process. If we are looking at universities as being in responsive mode then the key question is are we listening and, if we are listening, then to who. How are we actually building that intelligence base so that we can find the match between what companies and other organisations are trying to do and what universities can provide?

If we are partnering then universities have to ask themselves, like any other organisation, are they set up to form partnerships; have they got the right capabilities, capacity and expertise internally to manage those external relationships effectively?

The University of Warwick issued a formal declaration on higher education to the G8 during the 2013 Global University Summit. If you could get one commitment from the summit of world leaders that would benefit higher education, what would that be?

Free unfettered mobility of student and staff.


For more from the Knowledge Centre's Global Universities Summit blog, which focussed on the issues in higher education ahead of the 2013 Global University Summit, please click here.

The Global University Summit 2013 was hosted by the University of Warwick in Whitehall, London.

Image: Ken Sloan and Roberta Warman. University of Warwick Winter Graduation 2013.


Ken SloanKen Sloan joined the University as Registrar and Chief Operating Officer in February 2012 and is responsible for the administration of the University under the direction of the Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Nigel Thrift. He also serves as Clerk to the Senate, Secretary to all University committees and Company Secretary to the University’s companies and commercial business.