Why university education is no longer confined to campus – Commentary from Dr Gillian Murray


Many people look back on their college days with fond memories – their first time away from home, their first meeting with classmates who would become lifelong friends, their first time singing karaoke at the club bar. students. Yet student life for many is changing.

In the past, most students followed a conventional path, entering higher education in their late teens or early twenties, but today many learn remotely rather than studying on campus or to return to higher education while working full time.

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A large portion of our students are now in their late 30s and early 40s. Instead of entering and exiting lecture theaters and the college library, they learn online at a time suited to their busy lives, allowing them to juggle their careers, childcare or occupancy. of aging parents.

The upcoming Heriot-Watt University Skills Conference is taking place this week at Expo 2020 Dubai. Image: contributed.

By 2030, so-called “non-traditional” learners like these are expected to overtake traditional campus students. This growth is due in part to workers wanting to update their skills or supplement those they already have to help them with their career goals, alongside companies keen to develop their employees as the labor market grows. evolved.

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These non-traditional learners will be at the heart of our Future Skills conference, which will be held at Expo 2020 Dubai on December 8. Our one-day event will bring together experts from around the world to discuss new ways students are as well as the skills they will need in the jobs and industries of the future.

We’ll discuss learning with a goal – learning that will help address threats the world faces, from the climate emergency to dealing with debilitating diseases like dementia. We’ll also look at skills, entrepreneurship and the need for lifelong learning to help our workforce grow the global economy.

Dr Gillian Murray is Associate Director of Business and Enterprise at Heriot-Watt University and Chair of the Center for Work-Based Learning. Image: contributed.

Speakers at the event will include Datuk Yasmin Mahmood, widely known as Malaysia’s ‘ambassador’ for the digital economy and recently appointed president of Heriot-Watt University Malaysia, which, along with our campus in Dubai, expands our reach around the world.

Other attendees include Khaled Ismail, vice president of food packaging manufacturer Tetra Pak, and Alison Watson, founder and CEO of Class of Your Own, a social enterprise that has been teaching young people about the construction industry since 2009.

During the conference, we will be launching Heriot-Watt Online, our new educational initiative that will open up learning to thousands of people around the world. It’s not just about online learning; these are tailor-made courses that have been developed with companies to fill current and future skill gaps.


The courses offered through Heriot-Watt Online range from masters in subjects as diverse as data analytics, digital transformation and supply chain management and logistics to undergraduate degrees and apprenticeships. Our university has a long history in this field, having delivered our Masters of Business Administration (MBA) courses online in 160 countries over the past 20 years.

Over the next few years, we aim to launch 20 more masters, ranging from business psychology to sustainable futures and other emerging themes, including energy transition. These courses will help students develop the skills they need for their current jobs, but also prepare them for the roles they will occupy in the future.

This is an area where Scotland already leads the world, and there too is a growing economic opportunity for our nation. The global online degrees market was valued at $ 36 billion (£ 27 billion) in 2019 and is expected to nearly double to $ 74 billion by 2025, according to the market information company. HolonIQ education 18.

The World Economic Forum predicts that the global workforce will grow by 230 million people by 2030, with some two billion jobs – half of current jobs – being transformed by decarbonization, new technologies and influence. growing industries.


Hurry up. A report by consultancy firm Korn Ferry found that more than 85 million jobs are unlikely to be filled by 2030 because people will not have the right skills, costing the global economy 8.5 trillion of dollars.

Developing the right types of courses to help capitalize on these opportunities is only possible through innovative research conducted by universities such as Heriot-Watt. Our ambitious Industrial Decarbonation Research and Innovation Center (IDRIC) – led by Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer – is at the forefront of helping traditional industries reduce their emissions and tackle the climate emergency. .

Our National Robotarium is developing technology to help humans stay safe by finding robotic solutions for decommissioning nuclear power plants, servicing offshore wind turbines, or navigating dangerous terrain for search and rescue following disasters. natural.

These advancements in areas such as robotics and artificial intelligence show why it is so important for our students, regardless of age or location, to continue to develop their skills. Digital technology has already touched so many aspects of our working lives and the next steps will be for machines to start performing routine tasks, freeing up humans to develop new skills to tackle the most common problems. urgent needs of the world.

As we approach our upcoming skills conference at Expo 2020 Dubai, our researchers and educators continue to develop the knowledge and understanding they need to educate the current and next generation of students to help meet the challenges facing the planet and exploit the opportunities these challenges create. We hope you will join us on this journey.

Dr Gillian Murray, Associate Director of Business and Enterprise at Heriot-Watt University and Chair of the Center for Work-Based Learning.

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