Looking into the future at a plausible scenario in which the cost of higher education becomes more expensive in the UK – how can universities provide affordable education with the social comforts and quality that exists today, and what role will online learning play in this landscape?

Education Futures was a 12 week user-led research & service design project that delivered three design outcomes to the Glasgow School of Art, in response to the challenges in the HE sector today. The outcomes were a new university model (design strategy), and two digital services to support student demands in a competitive sector challenged by budget constraints (service design) 

The project was split into three sections. Research, Analysis and Design. This page breaks down each section to provide an overview of the design-led approach and development of the project.

Education Futures Simester At Sea

Image Above: Semester at Sea. One of the emerging trends in the Higher Education landscape today is 'alternative education experiences'. This project involves spending one semester on a cruise ship circumnavigating the globe as you study. 


This project was set in a speculative future scenario. The first part the of the research involved engaging with experts in the field of education, european law, politics, and economics to understand the implications of looming events such as the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, and a potential EU in/out referendum (this project was undertaken in the summer of 2014!). With the insights derived from this engagement a future casting method was designed and implemented to create four plausible future scenarios, each with different socio-economic and political situations..

The second part of the research was user-focused. We facilitated user-led research workshops to understand how millennial parents with young children experienced higher education (or not), and what their expectations were for their children's educational future. For this we devised a series of speculative jobs, that don't exist today, but could exist in the future. For example an Urban Farmer.

The children were present in the workshops, and asked to pick a job. The parents then had to respond to their child's requests, and suggest an appropriate, or recommended journey through education. We presented a variety of different future scenarios for the parents to respond to. For example, one scenario featured a higher education landscape where tuition fee caps had been abolished, and student loans privatised.

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The analysis and ideation phase of the project is often a foggy zone, that is difficult to articulate to stakeholders. As this was an academic project, we provided a detailed overview of the analysis phase, which included some bespoke design tools and gamification methods. We produced a short paper to describe this process, and some of the ideas that were generated. You can read it --> here <-- (the file size is big! so download with caution if using mobile data) 

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One of the outcomes of this project was a new designed-strategy for an 'umbrella' institution, that liberates faculties/schools from being fixed to one single campus. The umbrella institution provides each faculty with three months of campus use, to deliver lectures, workshops and other physical learning activities. The remainder of the academic year is delivered through blended online learning approaches, where the students are free to choose their location of study, becoming educational nomads. This model provides an opportunity for institutions to expand their numbers without increasing infrastructure or facilities, by maximising the use of the campus.  

To deliver this concept back to project stakeholders, we told the story of a fictional institution that emerges in 2016 and shifts towards a blended learning model to adapt to the economics of constraints. However the model has many variations, and not all student requirements can be met. This project also delivered two examples of online services that could exist to support students in this competitive and constrained future model of education. 

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OUTCOME 02: PEN (Digital Service)

PEN is an online service designed to support a strategic teaching plan in which students are nurtured within a supportive community before they disperse to a distant learning location and critique one another through a video based education network. The service cuts the number of tutor contact hours required to deliver a programme of education – which allows the institution to delegate more research hours, or save costs. 

OUTCOME 03: FREETUTOR (Digital Service)

This outcome is a critical-design response to a model of education in which tuition is cut in favour of supporting student social experiences. In this model the private tuition sector has a strong competitive nature which results in FREETUTOR. An app that matches students with tutors through a ratings based system. The tutors do not require previous experience, and can start building their ratings whilst being students themselves, offering free tutorials to their peers in lower levels of study. 

Click this link to view the full project publication on ISSUU

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The WMU School of Tourism prospectus cover.