Research-intensive universities are required to capitalise on research and deliver excellent teaching and learning to provide graduates with skills and mindsets for the disruptive 21st century. This requires universities to operate at the interface of significant tensions thatinclude the need for balancing disciplinary knowledge with interdisciplinarity; international orientation with local embeddedness; nationalaccreditation systems with providing flexibility and enabling international staff/student mobility; growing student numbers with supportingindividual learning and individual choice; global challenges; disciplinary training with industry needs and innovation with competition for scarce resources. While higher education needs to do much with little, a discourse of ‘need for change’ is sweeping the sector.

This discourse became more pronounced with the Covid-19 disruption beginning in March 2020. Students and staff becamesimultaneously ‘mobile’ and ‘immobile’ and had to balance being ‘on’ and ‘off’ line, operating, not by choice, in a digital space. The dominant face-to- face teaching model has, possibly irreversibly, morphed to a hybrid, with blended learning swiftly becoming the mainmodus operandi. Universities, collectively and individually, are in the process of learning from the emergency interventions of the past year to provide students, staff and non-academic stakeholders with enriched learning approaches and dynamic environments for the future.

In this context, the aim of this Insight Paper is to provide an intervention and framework for reimagining research-led education in a digital age.

Our position is that the most important contribution of universities to a better world is graduates who have received strong research-led education and have developed relevant skills and mindsets. Future-proof learning designs require a reconceptualisation of the learning experiences available to the students, going beyond linear binaries of the past towards educational models that blend face to face and digital. This has deep implications for the pedagogic formats available to students, core aspects of academic practice – such assessment – and modes and modalities of cross-institutional collaboration and mobility.

Institutions should:
  • Better recognise and support challenges and opportunities around strengthening diversity (for instance, in international collaboration, participation in co/extra-curricular activity, the urgent need to address digital poverty, ).
  • Enable every student to have access to challenge-led educational opportunities, inter- university (regional/national/international) learning experiences and/or service learning as a key to the contribution of universities to educating global citizens, strengthening competences and addressing societal challenges.
  • Articulate the local specificity of global challenges, to strengthen their connectedness to local communities.
  • Trust the quality assurance systems (and marking schemes) of peer
  • Use the experience of the pandemic to better express the value of the social learning experience, and the added value of digital tools.
  • Incentivise and recognise pedagogic
National governments/educational ministries should:
  • Recognise the value of internationalization, not as opposed to, but as strengthening the national excellence and regional contributions of universities.
  • Tackle bureaucracy, including reducing red tape around quality assurance and strengthening trust in institutional processes (including between countries and systems).