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The future of student life: working

Jason Swanson (Strategic Foresight at Policy and Strategic Foresight, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and Department of Human Development and Consumer Sciences, Houston Foresight Program, Houston, Texas USA)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 14 August 2017




A research project exploring the emerging student needs explored six aspects of a student’s life: living, learning, working, playing, connecting and participating. The aspect of “working” is explored in this paper, considering how the spread of and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and automation might reconfigure work, and asking what the implications of shifts in how we engage in and complete work mean for student needs. The purpose of this paper is to summarize the two scenarios about the working domain from the Student Needs 2025+ project and highlight implications for the future of higher education.


A modified version of the University of Houston’s “Framework Foresight” method was used to explore the future of six aspects of future student life.


Among the various findings of the research, the most important was the critical uncertainty as to what extent will AI, automation and general advancements in technology reshape work. These technologies are actively transforming how work is accomplished and how it is organized. Given the importance of work as a central organizing principle for many, this transition adds great uncertainty to the critical skills that students will need in the future, as well as calling into question how the other five research domains (learning, playing, connecting, participating and living) are organized. The research also found that students and those entering the workforce can expect increased levels of competition for steady work within a company. Based on the current trajectory of trends and changes, it will be increasingly challenging to climb a “career ladder”, and credentials will be even more important in terms of gaining entry into the employment market.

Research limitations/implications

In terms of research limitations, the paper is focused on the needs of students and does not purport to be an exhaustive analysis of all the issues influencing higher education. It views the future of higher education through the lens of students and their emerging needs.

Practical implications

The paper is intended for educators, researchers and administrators to provide insight on how the needs of students, their key customers, are evolving.


This research explores student life in its totality as way to more accurately identify student needs in the future.



Swanson, J. (2017), "The future of student life: working", On the Horizon, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 165-168.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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