The lives of students in 2028
In 'A Student's View of the Universities'  published in 1943, the hope for the future university was that universities would "use their resources to raise the standard of living in the most general sense" and "by their educational functions they will become centres of a vital and creative culture, shedding their light over thousands and millions of people". Universities will be "closely linked with daily activities and problems and essentially, therefore, at the disposal of the people."
NUS Scotland believes that this hope is as relevant today as it was 65 years ago. The university of 2028 should be central to the culture of Scotland and be "at the disposal of the people" and we believe that in 20 years this will not be a hope but a reality.
The student of 2028
NUS Scotland believes that the student body moving towards 2028 will be increasingly diverse and discerning. There will be no "typical" student but the concept of the "traditional" student who is not the first in his or her family to go to university will still remain. This will be in part due to the marked increase in people graduating from university in the 90's and early 00's encouraging their children to gain higher qualifications and in part due to a continuing disparity in 2028 between middle class and working class attitudes to higher education.
This means that the agenda to widen access to university in Scotland will become increasingly important as a social justice issue. We must ensure that mechanisms are in place to ensure that so called "first generation" students are supported and encouraged to achieve their full potential in a society that can attain much of the 50% participation target from the children of graduates alone. We need to ensure that we don't unwittingly fall further into the trap of social class determining a child's chances of entering higher education.
Universities must face up to the challenges of a diverse student population through better access, more flexibility and greater support to a wide range of personal circumstances.
Students in a lifelong learning culture
By 2028 the concept of lifelong learning should be embedded into Scottish culture. In order to meet the demand of this culture, universities must move to a more accessible system that flows through the SCQF structure from all levels. In doing so, the sector will need to become more accepting of the benefits in having a fully integrated university and college sector working towards the same goals rather than two separate sectors that values their differences rather than similarities.
In order to achieve a structure that encourages and meets the needs of a truly lifelong learning culture, colleges and universities will have to be closely linked and share responsibility for training and developing skilled graduates for the employment market.
To achieve this, universities and colleges can draw on the strengths in each sector in meeting the needs of Scotland's economy. Universities can utilise the strengths of the college sector in providing employability skills and vocational enhancement to theoretical degrees. Meanwhile, colleges can tap into the research opportunities and campus resources of universities to enhance the quality of their students' experience.
In working in this way, students should be enabled to carry portable elements of their study between college and university in Scotland and within the Bologna countries, so that they can tailor their learning to fit their needs and their aspirations. We already have the SCQF structure to make this possible but more needs to be done to understand that a university student can travel up and down the SCQF levels in order to achieve their intended skills rather than the highest level being the most desirable.
A diverse student population
As a sector, more must be done to encourage students from all backgrounds to enter and remain in education, but more must also be done to ensure that the learning experience of all students can be enhanced through our diverse student population. Students from across the world, with many different circumstances and life experiences can learn from one another, and ensuring that these interactions are able happen must be an essential part of any curriculum.
Evidence suggests that changing birth rates, an aging population and more varied working practices will result in a move away from the necessity of full-time, traditionally taught courses into a need for more part time, flexible provision delivered through a variety of means.
In order to achieve a lifelong learning culture that acknowledges the different circumstances of learners, more work needs to take place on recognising the experience and ability of all those who apply, particularly to recognise informal and work-based learning.
NUS Scotland believes that more should be done to formalise recognition of prior learning and suggests that a National Centre for RPL should be created, in partnership with the SCQF and other bodies. The Open University may well be an organisation best placed to take this forward. In order to achieve this, the OU will have to work with professional bodies and universities to establish an acceptable RPL system that fits into the SCQF model, and to work with employers to promote greater acceptance of prior learning.
Greater awareness of the SCQF amongst students, institutions and employers must occur and if successful, will have numerous benefits. Learners, particularly those that don't believe they have many worthwhile skills, will develop the confidence and aspiration to enter further learning through the belief that their current skills are of value. Use of the SCQF will also open up means to a more flexible education system, where students can enter, study at a rate that suits their present circumstances, leave and return as they wish, creating a higher education sector focussed around students and their needs.
Students at the heart of their learning
Scotland currently leads the way in student participation in quality. This trend will continue and progressive generations of students will expect more involvement than their predecessors.
By 2028 NUS Scotland believes that, in order to remain at the forefront of student participation, students and students' associations must be at the centre of all processes relating to the student experience. Universities must meet this expectation with a shift in attitude to how the most fundamental processes work. By 2028 it should be the accepted norm that students participate in all decision-making in all areas of the university such as curriculum design and welfare support. In doing so, the university sector will become stronger and more able to anticipate and meet the needs of a changing student population.
Universities will also need to ensure that the mode of learning they offer will meet the needs and circumstances of a diverse student body. Courses will have to be offered to fit around the lives of mature students, students with family or work commitments and distance learning students. In order to achieve this, universities will need to re-think the times that they offer their courses and the mode in which they deliver it.
Students as skilled graduates
Universities should consider the value of entrepreneurship in graduates and should embed this learning into the curriculum. It is very likely that increasingly, higher education will become, as has largely begun, a key part of a more credentialist society. As jobs become ever more complex, more and more training will be provided to graduate recruits by companies themselves, and the degree will become an long access pass to a "graduate career" that doesn't require the knowledge taught in the university. For this reason, we must look more towards ensuring graduates gain the transferable skills they will need in the workplace during their courses. As well as entrepreneurship, this must include soft skills such as teamwork and analysis, as well as critical thinking. It is important that recognition is also applied to distance travelled by a student during their time in education.
Care must be taken to ensure that postgraduate courses do not become the new baseline for access to graduate careers, for to do so, would be to negate all the work done to make access to education fairer. This needs to be kept under close review by the Government, and serious action taken to ensure that access to education to allow for social mobility is accessible for all students.
Future funding of the sector
NUS Scotland supports the view that the recent spending review settlement was disappointing both for students and for institutions, who are directly affected by levels of institutional funding. Long term, sustainable and significant investment in our universities should be a guiding principal for the Scottish Government now and in 2028 and the importance of the university sector to Scotland's future prosperity must not be underestimated.
Likewise, Scotland hosting the most well funded institutions in the world would be worthless if students are not funded adequately to access them. Current debt cultures developing amongst students may well have developed into substantial social issues amongst today's students by 2028. For example, today's students, as tomorrow's graduates may still carry the impact of their student debt with them while their children commence their own university education. We may see an increasing barrier for traditional learners because their parent's student debt prevents them from support them through a similar system.
There is no one solution to counteract increasing investment in higher education in countries such as China and India. NUS Scotland believes that by 2028, the UK's low position in the OECD league tables for business investment in universities should be reversed.
Learning for learning's sake
It should not be forgotten that a founding principle of Scotland's universities came from the fact that the benefit and joy of learning for its own sake was understood. We must be cautious that we do not forget this principle as we move forward, and must not become a sector that exists purely for the benefit of Scotland's business sector.  Brian Simon: A Student View of the Universities, 1943: Longmans, Green and Co