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Digitization The college of tomorrow

Digital technologies, world of work 4.0, virtual mobility, international competition etc. – the current challenges in university education require new models and formats. How will the colleges and universities of tomorrow look? How will they rise to the needs of the era of transformative digitization?

We find ourselves in an era of transformation. We are presently facing fundamental changes to the way in which we live, work, play and even learn, which are similar in scale to those experienced by people during the industrial revolution. Digital technologies are not only altering our learning habits but also the forms taken by higher education institutions and the role they play. Close your eyes and imagine you are waking up in the year 2030. Nine billion people are live on Planet Earth. Humankind has landed on Mars. Intelligent robots are working with people and cars are driving themselves. What shape will our education system take on? There are four potential scenarios to lend some insight into the future of learning.

Harvard, Oxford or the Federal Institutes of Technology – traditional, elite universities continue to score highly

Historic and internationally renowned universities will continue to play a key role in the future. They are the cream of the crop of world universities and will continue to attract large numbers of students in coming years thanks to their reputation as elite institutions. But as they are state financed and regulated, there is little scope for profit-focused initiatives, which means their primary focus is on traditional, teaching- and research-based Bachelor and Master courses.

Private colleges like HWZ are networking with industry

More market and less state. Private colleges enjoy greater autonomy as far as their sources of financing are concerned thanks to independence from governmental and state financing. They have a commercial focus and thus often work with sponsors and partners. They maintain strong ties with industry and offer their students work-integrated learning with high practical relevance.

Singularity University and Jolt are using disruptive formats

Often seen as odd or frivolous, disruptive formats unfortunately have a battle on their hands towards rightful recognition. But this will change dramatically in future: “wacky”, new formats focussing on competitiveness, efficiency and innovation will multiply and do away with the traditional models used by higher education facilities. They will be precisely aligned to the needs of digital transformation and not shy away from expanding into new markets and services.

Flexible online learning thanks to virtual mobility using the example of Udemy

The training materials are kept where their users spend the majority of their time: on the Internet. Flexible and exclusively online: all teaching takes place online at a virtual college. Lectures are provided in video form, learning materials are shared via online platforms and tests are taken on computers. In short: universities structuring themselves into networks to enable joint use of digital platforms.


The scenarios show that the education sector is on the verge of a far-reaching transformation. Political decision-makers and university heads need to work together to question the status quo and adapt regulatory frameworks in order to encourage innovation, investment and transformation amongst higher education institutions.


Manuel P. Nappo, Director of the Institute for Digital Business and head of MAS Digital Business at HWZ Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Manuel P. Nappo is Director of the Institute for Digital Business and head of MAS Digital Business at HWZ Zurich University of Applied Sciences. In 2013, Nappo was awarded the title of “Digital Pioneer of the Year” by IAB Switzerland for his contribution to digital education and training.

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