Some universities will face closure or merger as they struggle to compete for a dwindling number of students over the next 20 years, vice-chancellors warn.
A report for umbrella body Universities UK says unless institutions adapt quickly to the changing demographics, some institutions will become unviable.
The number of 18 to 20-year-olds is set to fall sharply between 2009 and 2027.
This means universities could face a smaller demand for places and hence a drop in public funding, it says.
The Universities UK report looks at three different scenarios predicting what will happen if institutions react in different ways to the changing demographics and a more difficult economic climate.
In the second scenario, non-traditional private providers enter the market pace and “cherry pick” course areas with low entry costs.
A greater increase in e-learning also leads to partnerships with private firms. […]
In this scenario, damage to the education system is predicted as private providers gain degree awarding powers and a small number of elite institutions seek to leave the publicly funded sector.
In the third scenario, the university sector becomes more employer-driven and flexible and there is full development of technology-based learning thanks to public and private investment.
Most students end up studying part-time on a virtual basis while they continue to work, but full-time undergraduate study does remain part of the system.
This leads to universities grouping together strategically with employers and establishing themselves as major regional providers along side further education colleges.
Again, private providers cherry-pick vocational provision which will net them substantial profits and they also take over failing institutions.
What this report suggests is that if design education is to survive as a university subject, it has to let go of its vocational roots, no longer training designers (leaving that to the FE sector and private colleges) but educating strategic thinkers. Exactly what we concluded.