THE principal of Scotland’s newest university has claimed the traditional Scottish degree was fast becoming outdated in the face of modern technology.
James Fraser, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), plans to offer students the chance to do an honours degree within three years – and an ordinary degree within two – by using the latest technology all-year round.
He claims Scottish universities must challenge themselves to meet the needs of 21st century students globally.
He said: “Today’s students may not want to study for three or four years for a degree, staying and socialising with their peers in one place.
“They do not have to attend a university to access university degrees.”
He said students can choose to learn from home or work by a mixture of face-to-face teaching, video conferencing and online.
And he added that they could study for the full 12 months instead of sticking to shorter academic years.
The principal added: “The changes in technology, economic and social change and the globalisation of education have undoubtedly opened up an adaptive space for universities to explore and, perhaps, exploit
“Indeed students can access university education free of charge by switching on their laptops, tablets or mobile phones.
“We have the opportunity to stretch and challenge the traditional concepts and paradigms of ‘a university’ in Scotland and beyond; to expand into that adaptive space and in doing so to meet the needs of learners, industry and society on not only a regional basis but also at national and global levels.”
He said that UHI had already gained years of experience of delivering education in this way.
And he added: “There is no compelling reason for keeping this a secret within our borders – we can use our delivery mechanism to secure our share of the new global landscape.”
But, he warned, that in this new world Scottish higher education providers have to ensure the education experience they are offering is high quality and connected to the world of work so that students can compete successfully as employees or as entrepreneurs.
UHI’s chief said: “Scotland has a world acclaimed university system, we punch well above our population weight in teaching and in research.
“Our quality is excellent and we continue to attract acceptable volumes of students.
“But Scottish universities compete in this new world of highly accessible global education, where other world famous universities such as Harvard and Oxford already compete for students with iTunes U.
“We cannot simply stand still and continue to offer traditional study options to our students.
“We have to challenge the paradigm by re-examining what we do and offer our different customers not only what they need and want, but at the time they want it, and at the place they want it and in the way they want it – should that be long part-time study or shorter full-time study based on a 12 month academic year.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is important that Scottish universities look to innovate and adapt the way they offer learning to meet the needs of potential students.
“A number of universities are making progress with modernising the delivery of education and we encourage this work.”