Using the past to predict the future: what futures are documented for higher education?

Simon Stephens (Simon Stephens is a Lecturer at the School of Business, Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Letterkenny, Republic of Ireland.)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Publication date: 20 September 2013



As people again consider what the future holds for higher education, this paper aims to provide a review of the futures documented for higher education. Authors including McNay; Schuller; Bourner et al.; Abeles; Avila and Ledger; Tynan and Lee; and Melville‐Ross, have scoped the future for higher education. This paper aims to consider the structure of these predictions and to explore the changes that have been proposed.


The analysis of literature in this paper refers to documents produced by: governments and their agencies; books; and academic articles. This categorisation is based on the framework used by Tight. Two additional constraints are placed on the literature to keep it focused and manageable. First, the literature is restricted to publications in the English language. Second, the literature is limited to material published in the last 20 years. The rationale for this restriction is that the majority of futures research is produced with a 20 year horizon.


Numerous ideas on the future of higher education have been proposed over the last 20 years. Authors have proposed ideas under a range of themes. Although no significant pattern emerges, repeatedly authors have proposed change in relation to: access, teaching, institutional design, funding, ICT/virtual delivery, the student experience and the needs of the economy/labour market.


The value of this article is to help create some order, providing an overview of previous writing on the future of higher education.



Simon Stephens (2013) "Using the past to predict the future: what futures are documented for higher education?", On the Horizon, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 323-332

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