Hardly anyone would disagree that our personal and professional lives are in a constant state of flux. In many ways, the world around us is becoming more globalised, more connected, more influenced by technology, and graduate study trends are no exception to this dynamic. As they are educating the change-makers of the future, Masters degree programmes are also a reflection of the latest economic and social fluctuations.

Expanding world

The international flow of students is one of the most exciting and revealing trends to follow. Most importantly, the trend that sums up the entire spectrum of global student mobility is the fact that the internationalisation of education is growing. University students are increasingly open to exploring the world outside of their home countries and many are open to the idea of obtaining their degree abroad. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that by the year 2025 more than eight million students will be studying abroad. But how are regional movements influencing the global flow to foreign universities?

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According to University Information Services, the majority of globally mobile students come from high- and upper middle-income countries (27% and 40%, respectively, of the total number of outwardly mobile students). The statistics illustrate how significantly the aspirations for studying abroad have increased for people from upper middle-income countries – examples of which include countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Russia, and China – over the last two decades. In the 2016-17 academic period alone, the EU was the biggest source of non-native students in the UK, followed by China and the rest of Asia.

At the same time, the quality education provided in developed countries has encouraged students from those regions to explore additional opportunities to study and travel. This is typically measured through credit mobility – the popularity of exchange programmes and Erasmus travel packages. “As the income level of a country increases and the quality of the local higher education system improves, students are more likely to pursue international credit mobility,” report global education experts Rahul Choudaha and Hans de Wit.

Booming tech industry

Undoubtedly, technology has played a crucial role in changing the employment landscape, considering that job titles such as data scientist, app developer, Big Data architect, and digital marketing specialist have only become common over the past five years or so. As a response, varied graduate programmes including Data Science for Business (École Polytechnique in France), Economics and Management of Innovation and Technology (Bocconi University in Italy), and Artificial Intelligence for Business Transformation (SKEMA Business School in France) are readily available.

While some critics have a pessimistic view of technology’s impact on future employment trends, the growth of the industry actually opens opportunities for many non-tech competencies to come forward. According to a 2018 LinkedIn report, the soft skills that are most in demand are leadership, communication, collaboration, and time management. Moreover, the majority of business leaders they surveyed said that soft skills are more important than hard tech skills. In other words, as technology takes over, employers will be in dire need of professionals with formal education in disciplines that develop the social and creative abilities unique to humans. “The distinction between workplaces that hire technology vs non-tech professionals is blurring rapidly as every business now needs both components to grow,” points out a contributor for The Economic Times.

Read: How Are These Graduate Programmes Going Digital?

Growing variety of learning formats

The increasing availability of online Masters courses has been a popular topic of discussion in higher education circles. But let’s be honest – a student’s ability to join a class through video conferencing, submit homework online, and facilitate teamwork digitally is hardly news anymore. Rather, the more significant macro trend here has to do with the fact that graduate programmes are no longer strictly confined to a single format. Today, students all over the world are curating their own learning experience. They can choose the specific mix of course formats that not only corresponds to their geographic location and schedule, but also suits their specific academic and professional goals.

The 2018 Prospective Students Survey published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) illustrates the decision-making that today’s class participants can afford. According to the report, “the greatest share of prospective students want most of their coursework delivered in person, but want some online coursework.” The finding is fascinating because many academics and programme curators tend to think of students’ preferences on a binary level. In reality, their quest for learning can be more complex and they now have the freedom to customise their studies several steps further than simply “face-to-face or online”.

The new requirements of a changing workplace

Lifelong learning has been on everyone’s mind lately as current and future students, academics, and already experienced professionals are all witnessing the fast-paced evolution of the labour market, requiring constant upskilling and the update of knowledge. New job titles spring up while other professions lose their allure. These changes raise an obvious question – is a graduate programme worth it if the shelf-life of our skills is so short? The reality is that the Masters degree offers more than a diploma; it lays the groundwork for your career focus and gives you the industry-specific knowledge that employers will need from you. It also teaches you the skills that endure over time such as high-level problem-solving, decision-making, and commitment.

The associate provost for digital learning and innovation at the Questrom School of Business at Boston University (US), Chris Dellarocas, shares another pertinent point. “A university’s strongest asset is the deep bond that we form with our students – through our faculty, guidance counsellors, student activities organisations, corporate partners, [etc.],” he says. “These relationships are built around course work, of course, but also include a substantial amount of mentoring and life coaching, as well as immersion in campus activities and peer networks.” What Mr Dellarocas means is that graduate school will set you up for lifelong learning. You will undoubtedly learn a lot but, most importantly, you will learn how to keep learning in the future. Capitalising on these relationships and strengthening the network nurtured on campus has become a clear goal for universities as they prepare students for the workplace of the future.

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The latest developments in higher education may not seem like big news to some people. However, even today we are witnessing gradual yet exciting changes taking place at schools around the world. Whether it is the teaching methodologies, industry specialisations, admissions procedures, or application trends, international higher education will look very different in the next decade, just as it has transformed over the past one.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2019-2020 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “It’s an Exciting World, Isn’t It?”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.