Industry and student led course design the future of higher education, say DMU experts at Expo 2020


The Vice-Chancellor of De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has told a global audience at Expo 2020 how she sees the future of higher education.

Professor Katie Normington joined a panel of experts to discuss the changes universities are likely to make in the coming years at a summit event hosted by DMU in Dubai.

She said that institutions would need to work more closely with industry to develop courses which gave students the biggest opportunity to succeed.

She said: “At DMU we already have courses co-designed with businesses and this will continue. We will see a move away from knowledge – which, in four or five years can be out of date – and a bigger emphasis on skills, both technical and the skills for people to acquire new knowledge.

“I also think modules will be taught in blocks, rather than the mixed timetables students currently have. Studying through blocks means you have a real sense of what you’re accruing and can take breaks between study modules.”

Professor Normington was discussing the future of higher education with Professor Sir Steve Smith, UK Government International Education Champion, Jonathan Nicholls, Senior Higher Education Adviser, FutureLearn and Sara Ahmedaziz, Chevening Scholar and Junior Egyptologist.

The discussion was the first in a series of talks – hosted by Dr Manjeet Ridon, Provost of DMU Dubai – which ran throughout the afternoon at the UK Pavilion, in the heart of Expo 2020, Dubai’s six-month long festival of global innovation.

Helen Grant, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education, chaired a discussion on the importance of girls’ education across the globe, while disability activist and entrepreneur Shani Dhanda led a debate on what role universities can play in inspiring and creating entrepreneurs.

Faith Moyosore Agboola talking to Shani Dhanda

The latter also featured Creative Enterprises MA graduate Faith Moyosore Agboola, who founded an African writers’ network along with AFM Stories, which connects students and graduates to funding opportunities.

Faith said afterwards: “It was really amazing. I really enjoyed the conversations and a enjoyed hearing from other perspectives.

“I was so happy to get the opportunity to do this on a global stage thanks to DMU. I was able to really get deep into my innermost thoughts on the stage.”

As part of the discussion on the future of higher education, Professor Normington and the other panelists had reflected on the rapid changes the pandemic had prompted across the sector.

L-R: Dr Manjeet Ridon, Provost of DMU Dubai; Helen Grant, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Girls’ Education; and Professor Katie Normington, DMU’s Vice-Chancellor

She said: “Although this year we have seen the possibilities of remote working we have also seen the limitations. I mean, for me, I finished an old job and started a new one in the same bedroom. I felt all wrong.

“And I realised that a big part of the experience of education was in being in the same room as other people. If you’re chairing a meeting you can’t always make sure people are fairly brought into the discussion because you can’t read their body language.

“So, I feel that we aren’t about to see the end of the campus. The campus is an inherent part of the university experience. But we can build a student experience which is more flexible around their needs.”