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‘Avalanche’ of innovation

Higher education faces shakeup over the next 20 years due to technological, demographic and social shifts, Dean Christoph Loch of Cambridge Judge says in the latest China Report from the China Advisory Council of Cambridge Judge.

Rolling wave of snow against a bright blue sky.
Christoph Loch.
Professor Christoph Loch

There will likely be “turmoil” in higher education over the next 20 years with a big change in the list of top global universities owing to technological, demographic and social shifts, the Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, Christoph Loch, writes in the third edition of The China Report from the business school’s China Advisory Council (CAC).

“Higher education is an industry like other industries in the sense that multiple players (some state owned and some private) compete for the access to talented students,” writes Dean Loch. “Therefore, technological shifts that are accelerated by demographic and social shifts (such as the ones caused by COVID) can change competitive stability and cause turmoil. I think turmoil is what we will see in the next 20 years – a change of perhaps 50% in the list of the global top 100 universities.

“The opportunities are huge, and so are the risks. I think that the result for students will be positive – a rapid avalanche of changed approaches to their education that will bring innovation faster than the established universities would be able to develop if not pushed to the brink.”

The new CAC report includes five topical essays: on higher education written by Dean Loch; on the founding of the Chinese stock markets by Wang Boming, Editor-in-Chief of CAIJING Magazine, founder of the Stock Exchange Executive Council in China and a member of the CAC at Cambridge Judge; China’s securities market by Dr Gong Shaolin, former Chairman of China Merchants Securities, a Fellow at Cambridge Judge and a member of the CAC; analysis of global anti-coronavirus strategies by Professor Zhang Wenhong, Head of the Center of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital of Fudan University; and “green” collaboration between the UK and China by Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE DL, President of the Confederation of British Industry and former chair of the Cambridge Judge Advisory Board. Each of these other essays will be featured in forthcoming articles on the Cambridge Judge website.

“When we published our last China Report at the Sanya International Forum in December 2019, if anyone had predicted that we would enter a global lockdown in combating a deadly pandemic within days, I would have believed it to be a dark fantasy,” says a Preface to the CAC report written by Xiyang Daniel He, President of Equitile Investments, a Fellow at Cambridge Judge and Secretary-General of the School’s China Advisory Council. “2020 will go down in history as a pivotal year. Historical disruptors packed the whole year with consequences that are hard to predict.”

In his essay, Dean Loch examines the technological changes in higher education prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. He concludes that while there will be some pivotal lasting changes in learning delivery, other time-tested elements will remain intact through a hybrid approach.

“Something that will not happen is that (higher) education will simply go online,” he writes. “The demise of face-to-face education has been predicted repeatedly, first, when radio arrived in the 1930s, then again when TV appeared in the 1960s, and again when the Internet exploded in the 1990s. It hasn’t happened, and it won’t, because such a big element of higher education resides in social skills and networking.

“On the other hand, during the various COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdowns, we have been forced to accept how much technology can really do (more than conservative education institutions were willing to admit before). Big changes are afoot. They will bring new combinations of online and face-to-face teaching, and winners and losers will be chosen by how creative and flexible they will be in offering value to students with combinations.”

Dean Loch also outlines how the pandemic has impacted executive education, based on evidence that “many executive education courses can be offered completely online (in a combination of high-quality pedagogical asynchronous materials and live online interactions, which include ‘social’ interactions among the participants)” – so he predicts that over the coming years only “elite” programmes such as discussion groups among very senior managers will remain face to face exclusively. Regarding higher education in China, Dean Loch says that with the country “at the brink of global leadership” it needs creative young people who think independently. So China “should become, and can be, more comfortable with different views – there are always multiple possible views, and reasonable people can disagree. A difference of opinion does not have to spiral into a loss of control. Allowing different views expresses the self-confidence and openness to become even better,” he writes.