Diversification of student cohort

Coupled with the massification of HE, student cohorts on campus become more and more heterogeneous. Undergraduate programs are no longer for the best high school graduates who were selected via highly competitive entrance exams or portfolio examination. They welcome all who have the ability to complete: high school graduates, mature people who return to HE for another degree, students from low socio-economic or disadvantaged backgrounds, housewives and househusbands with caring responsibilities, etc. For example, in Ireland, matine students accounted for 13.6% of full-time new undergraduate students in 2009-2010 and increased by 15% in 2011-2012 (O’Carroll, Ennis, Loscher, Ryan, & Dixon, 2017). In the USA, there has also been an increase in the numbers of minority black and ethnic groups attending universities. In 2014, there were 17.3 million undergraduate students, of which 3.0 million were Hispanic and 2.4 million were black. Between 2000 and 2014, the numbers of Hispanic students attending universities rose from 1.4 to 3.0 million, and 1.5 to 2.4 million in the case of students of black background (Bhopal, 2017). Such diversity in student population triggers the need for flexibility and effectiveness in organization of teaching and learning so as to better cater for students’ learning needs and learning abilities.

Changes in labor market needs

Recent higher education operation appears to be strongly affected by changes in the labor market. A HE degr ee is no longer an advantage for securing an employment (Tomlinson, 2008); employers are demanding a set of relevant skills and work experience to complement the degree (Brunner, Zarkin, & Yates, 2018; Kavanagh & Drennan, 2008; McMurray, Dutton, McQuaid, & Richard, 2016). They value graduates who are competent at technical skills and simultaneously possess a high level of generic skills such as communication, teamwork, problem solving, and creativity (Brunner et al., 2018; McMurray et al., 2016). More critically, a lifelong career is no longer a norm in our contemporary society. Graduates would experience changes in employment types and positions and thus become flexible, adaptable, and able to learn through life become an important asset to remain employable (Dosunmu & Adeyemo, 2018). Such changes in the labor market needs require regular updates in the content of the curricula and a focus on developing students’ competence in addition to knowledge. It also triggers the need for HE institutions to establish connections with industrial partners for collaboration in provision of skills training and work experience to enhance employability and employment outcomes for their graduates (Centre for Management Skills, 2009; Raddon & Sung, 2006).

Student entitlements

Commercialization of HE has introduced a new concept in higher education: students as customers (Guilbault, 2016). Naturally, if students have paid for a service, they should be treated as customers for that service. This concept has been critiqued to downgrade academic standards and the reputation of HE in the society. For example, Clayson and Haley (2005) explained that accepting this concept would result in students looking for easy high scores or blaming others for their lack of success, in forming adversarial relationships which may cause trouble in settling of a dispute in favor of the student, and a misallocation of curriculum and allocation of resources in meeting students’ preferences. Supporters of this concept argue in favor of the potential benefits it brings in marketing (Cuthbert, 2010), making the operation of HE institutions more professional and efficient, because students are most directly served by HE institutions (Ostrom, Bitner, & Burkhard, 2011). Despite objection, this concept has resulted in establishment of services for students such as academic support, career consultation, student accommodation, catering and healthcare.

Technological changes and students’ modern way of life

We may have been overwhelmed with rapid growth of information and communication technologies (ICT) in recent years. For young people, however, such technologies are part of their life (Hamza et al., 2019; Jin, 2017; Thulin & Vil-helmson, 2017). Many academics may not be very computer literate and able to use ICT in their teaching (Ansari & Zuberi, 2010; Nhu, Keong, & Wah, 2018). Plenty of ICT skills are perceived to be important among students, but academics do not perceive the same way. For example, in a study that involved Chinese students in Australia and academics, it was found that the students highly rated the importance of skills related to using animation software, web development tools, and media streaming in blended learning, but their academics did not rate these skills very high (Lu & Price, 2018). Yet to make HE relevant to the young and their way of life, adopting ICT into design and delivery of university programs is necessary if HE wants to exist.

Political pressure

Recent years have witnessed a move from a focus on the inputs to a focus on the process and outcomes in delivering university educational programs (e.g. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, 2013). With increased massification and commercialization, HE institutions are more strictly scrutinized for accountability of the quality and academic standards of their educational progr ams (Ben-dennacher, oude Egbrink, Wolfhagen, & Dolmans, 2017; Hsu, 2019), linking it to public funding mechanisms, which is significant in a time of scarce resoruces (Frolich, 2011; Hsu, 2019). Higher education institutions are expected to clearly describe their programs and execute these accordingly as well as to provide operational evidence for the purpose of quality assurance and accountability (e.g. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, 2013). In addition, university ranking systems have further pressured HE institutions in their research output and graduates’ employment rates, which have vigorously changed research and teaching activities in higher education (Soh, 2017; Vernon, Balas, & Momani, 2018). Despite being critiqued for violating the autonomy of higher education, the positive side of such political moves is that it makes operational activities in higher education more transparent and procedural as well as increasing competition for the betterment among institutions.

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