Future Skills Report 2019

The full Future Skills Report 2019 is now available: Future Skills Report 2019 (PDF) (69 Pages)

How will higher education institutions have to position in order to prepare future graduates for the changing society and future work place? The Future Skills Report 2019 is based on a number of prior research studies on future skills – future learning and future higher education. It presents validated concept and elaborates a model of future skills, data on future learning and consolidated scenarios for future higher education.

With fundamental changes in the job market and challenges in our societies  due to a global and technological drivers, research on future skills becomes increasingly relevant. However, many studies fall short on capturing the effects which technological advancements and global cooperation have today and will have in the future on higher education systems, skill development demands  and labour market changes. They often reduce future skills directly to digital skills, which – as important as they are – only represent one side of the future skill coin.

The results presented from this Delphi survey are taking a broader view and go beyond digital skill demands. The approach elaborates on an experts’ informed vision of future higher education (HE), taking into account the demand for future skills, outlines the four signposts of change which will shape the learning revolution in higher education and presents a first model of future skills for future graduates.

It is part of an overarching research project series on “Next Skills” (www.nextskills.org) and collates opinions from an international experts’ panel of almost 50 experts from higher education and business. Experts were asked both, the degree of relevance, as well as the timeframe of adoption for future skills, future higher education scenarios and the driving pillars of change.

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Selected Key Findings in a Nutshell

Future Skills

Future Skills Overview Graph

Future Skills

The report lists 16 important future skill profiles as relevant (see image). The term “future skills” is defined as the ‘ability to act successful on a complex problem in a future unknown context of action’. It refers to an individuals’ dispositionto act in a self-organized way, visible to the outside as performance.

The future skills model divides future skills into three interrelated dimensions: The first Future Skill dimension is the subjective dimensionof futures skills profiles. It is relating to an individuals’ subjective, personal abilities to learn, adapt and develop in order to improve their opportunities to productively participate in the workforce of tomorrow, actively shape the future working environment and involve themselves into forming societies to cope with future challenges. It contains seven future skill profiles.

The second Future Skill Dimension is relating to an individual’s ability to act self-organized in relation to an object (object dimension), a task or a certain subject matter related issue. It is emphasizing a new approach which is rooted into the current understanding of knowledge but is suggesting to take knowledge several steps up the ladder, connect it to motivation, values and purpose and impregnate it with the disposition to act self-organized in the knowledge domain in question. It is not just a quest for more knowledge but for dealing with knowledge in a different way which is resulting into professionalism and not into knowledge expertise.

The third Future Skill Dimension is relating to an individual’s ability to act self-organized in relation to its social environment (social-dimension), the society and organizational environment. It is emphasizing the individuals dual role as the curator of its social portfolio of membership in several organizational spheres and at the same time having the role of rethinking organizational spaces and creating organizational structures anew to make it future proof. It contains an array of five skill profiles.


Asked to compare the degree of importance of each skill and the degree of preparedness of higher education institutions, experts gave a clear picture which shows the discrepancy between relevance and implementation (see fig.)

Future Learning

The Delphi resulted into hallmark indications on the shift from academic education and teaching to active learning of choice and autonomy. Higher education institutions in the future will provide a learning experience which is fundamentally different than the model of today. Timeframe for the time of adoption vary but for many aspects a close or mid-term timeframe has been estimated through the Delphi experts.

EgalThe dimensions of future learning in higher education will comprise (1)  structural aspects, i.e. academic learning as episodical process between biographical phases professional and private episodes throughout life, learning as institutional patchwork instead of the current widest-spread one-institution-model of today, supported through more elaborated credit transfer structures, micro-qualifications and  microcredentials, as well as aspect of (2) pedagogical design of academic learning, i.e. changing practices of assessment, also peer-validation, learning communities, focus on future skills with knowledge playing an enabling role in interactive socio-constructive learning environments).In general  experts estimate structure changes to become relevant much later than changes related to academic learning design.

Drivers of Change in Higher Education

PillarsFour key drivers in the higher education market can be described. Each driver has a radical change potential for higher education institutions and together they mutually influence each other and span the room in which higher education likely will develop.

There are 2 content and curriculum related drivers (i.e. (1) personalized higher education and (2) future skill focus) and 2 organization-structure related drivers (i.e. (1) multi-institutional study pathways, (2) Lifelong Higher Learning)

Four Scenarios for Future HE

Three out of four scenarios score with a time of adoption of more than 10 years from today with the majority experts. Only the lifelong higher learning scenario scored for a time for adoption within the next 5 years with the majority of experts.

2_FS1 – The ‘future skill’ university:The ‘future skill’ scenario suggests that higher education institutions would leave the current model that focusses on knowledge acquisition. Instead, new profiles would be developed that emphasize graduates’ future skill development. In this scenario, HE would mainly be organized around one key objective: to enable the development of graduates’ future skills, i.e. complex problem solving, dealing with uncertainty or developing a sense of responsibility, etc. This would not replace but go beyond the current emphasis of knowledge acquisition and studying based on defined curricula for fixed professions.

2_MI2 – The networked, university:This scenario views higher education as a networked study experience. It will not be down to a single institution providing a student with a certain program, but that this role would be split among multiple institutions. This means that ‘digital import’ and ‘digital export’ of parts of the curriculum would play a significant role. The standard HE study structure and experience would shift from a “one-institution” model to a “multi-institutional” model.

2_PERs3 – The “My-University” scenario:This scenario describes HEIs as spaces where the elements of choices enlarge, and students can build their own curricula based on their personal interests. The curriculum of academic programs in this scenario would move from a fully predefined and ‘up-front’ given structure to a more flexible, personalized and participatory model in which students actively cooperate with professors/ teachers/ advisors in curriculum building of HE programs.

2_LLL4 – The lifelong higher learning scenario:In this scenario, seamless lifelong higher learning would be as important as initial higher education. Learners in the workplace would be the main type of student, choosing their portfolio of modules according to their personal skill needs and competence demands with high autonomy throughout their lifetime. Institutions thus would offer micro-credentials, which students assemble individually based on their own interests. Recognition of prior study achievements and practical experience would enable permeable shifting between different providers, which offer to bundle prior learning experience into larger certifications.

Infograph Future University Scenarios Adoption Time