A Vision for Scotland’s universities in 2030

Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland, takes the long view and sets out our ambition for Scotland’s higher education sector in 2030:

Graduation season is the perfect time to launch our Vision for Scottish higher education in 2030 because graduations represent a springboard into the future and a time full of optimism and energy. That’s what our Vision represents too. As a sector of 19 universities and higher education institutions we need to look beyond the continued Brexit uncertainties that have dogged almost all policy and funding decisions for the the past couple of years, re-focus on our purpose and set our sights on where we want to be ten years from now.

Our Vision is that in 2030, Scotland’s higher education sector is:

  • A world leader in education, research and innovation.
  • A vital source of Scotland’s strength’s in a competitive, connected and collaborative world.
  • A core part of Scotland’s identity as a prosperous, inclusive and outward-looking nation.

The Vision is unapologetically ambitious and optimistic about the role that higher education will have in Scotland in 2030, even when set against the most turbulent of policy backdrops of Brexit, Augar and mounting funding pressures. We have to be. We’re here to push the boundaries of new knowledge and to support our students to realise their dreams. Ambition is what we are here for. If we’re not doing that, we’re not doing our job. We want to exceed expectations and play a central part in creating a better future for individuals, for the sector and for Scotland.

The Vision has give us a chance to reflect on our values, to be clear who and what universities are here for. Our values are our anchor-point and that won’t change over the next 10 years regardless of how much else does. As universities, we believe we are here for learners, for wider society, for the economy and to support Scotland’s place in the world. That plays to our strengths and our fullest contribution. The Vision is structured accordingly.

In developing it, we considered the major drivers of change and disruptive forces like technology, demographic change and globalisation. They can be both positive and negative. As universities, we intend to be part of shaping the impact of such developments for the benefit of our various communities. For example, technology and automation is predicated to bring significant change to the labour force and more unpredictability to individual’s careers. That could be something to fear. But that gives higher education an opportunity to support the existing workforce with new models of lifelong learning to help them re-skill and multi-disciplinary approaches to learning so that people have a broader and more resilient skills-base. We can also be part of creating new jobs and entirely new sectors formed from our research and innovation breakthroughs. We’ve seen that already with informatics, precision medicine and continuous manufacturing. The next ten years could and should see whole new sectors emerge in Scotland, powered by universities.

The Vision is deliberately high level. That’s because it’s a vision that belongs to 19 universities. Scotland is home to a highly diverse group of higher education institutions and that diversity is a strength. Those institutions share the same vision of the future but they each have different strengths and they will each make a distinctive contribution to realising this vision.

One of the many things that unites a diverse sector of institutions is an absolute belief in the value that universities add to a really wide range of beneficiaries. As we look to the future, we’re ambitious to grow that contribution, to be a core part of a prosperous, inclusive and outward-looking Scotland. It’s not just going to happen. It will depend on the choices we make now and over the next few years. It will depend on the choices of others.

We call on our stakeholders, on Governments and others to work with us and be part of achieving this vision.