Business education in the future will be about joint ventures that blend market credibility and academic capability says Professor Peter Thomas of The Leasing Foundation

The Leasing Foundation has recently launched its consultation on education for the leasing and asset finance industry. Education for asset finance – new routes to recognition, professionalism and reward aims to start a discussion about education and development in the industry, to catalyse opinion and create change.

Alongside research and philanthropy, ‘developing people’ is one of the Foundation’s core missions and is probably the most important issue facing the industry. If we can’t recruit, retain and develop good people, the health of the industry, and so the companies in the industry, will suffer.

The consultation takes as its starting point that all options are open to us – not just existing offers from current providers. This is partly because the education sector is undergoing huge change and whatever directions we propose for education, training and development will need to be set in the context of that change.

And the changes are enormous. The perceived value of qualifications, both for individuals and companies, is changing. People are now asking questions about the value of a traditional degree or diploma in career and self-development terms. The definition of ‘learning’ is changing – people and companies are realising that application of knowledge is at least, and probably more, important than simply the acquisition of knowledge.

Technology is changing the nature of learning – the availability of high-quality digital content allows people to be more self-directed in what and how they learn. And finally, the nature of the education industry itself is changing – new entrants are coming into the market and are offering radically new alternatives.

As a background to the consultation paper I’d like to explore some these changes, what they might mean for leasing and asset finance, and why a coordinated, industry-based approach to education for the industry is worth developing.

The first of the transformative changes for education is the democratisation of knowledge and access to it through technology. Digital content on the internet has radically transformed the nature of knowledge, unlocking the potential for people to learn more, and more quickly, than ever could have been conceived of even 10 years ago.

Slowly at school level, but more quickly higher up the education ladder, technology is changing the way education is delivered and accessed – which means the value that education providers offer, especially to business, is also changing. We already see new providers coming into the education market with new kinds of product – the most obvious being massive open online courses (MOOCs) that offer free degree-level education to tens of thousands of students.

Although this isn’t sustainable, the models that follow will be: for example, specialist providers will increasingly own different parts of the education process – such as creating content, aggregating content, certifying outcomes or distributing content – with no need to own the entire process, as is the case now.

Greater participation

This means that there are new opportunities for industries to play a greater part in the education system – opportunities to move away from long-established programmes that don’t connect with business needs, opportunities to accredit specific parts of specialist programmes, and opportunities to become partners with universities and other established providers.

Those universities that don’t build truly reciprocal relationships with industry will find they are displaced by new entrants who specialise in specific segments (such as asset finance), blend parts of the learning and education process (for example, recruitment and apprenticeship training) or who provide the framework in which people can assemble credits earned from different educational experiences into credentials with real value in the labour market.

The implication for the leasing and asset finance industry is that we are in a strong position to cut deals with universities and other providers that offer better outcomes for them – brand preservation and access to a wider network of customers – and for us, through co-developing programmes that truly reflect industry needs and are unencumbered by bureaucratic processes or an outdated or ‘one-size-fits-all’ syllabus.

The model where professional bodies provide certification – such as for certified public accountants, for example – will also become more prominent as new professional bodies are able to deliver much greater amounts of content to much greater numbers of students. Education in the future will be about joint ventures that blend market credibility and academic capability.

For industries that partner effectively in education there are also revenue opportunities. The annual spend on higher education in Asia will grow by a trillion dollars or more over the next fifteen years. China’s tertiary education participation rate more than trebled from 8% to 25.9% in the first decade of this century and is likely to double again in the next 10-15 years.

Education participation rates in Latin America, ASEAN, the Middle East and North Africa are growing dramatically. The opportunity is to connect with the new middle classes in emerging markets for many products and services, not just education.

The final trend that will impact education for asset finance is mobility. While lots of universities have international campuses, many of the newer entrants to education – especially those that offer online education – are instantly global. And while only a few elite universities – Harvard, MIT, Oxford, and some of China’s emerging C9 League universities – will achieve true global status, new kinds of educational institutions, especially ones that are based around industries like asset finance, are already global. This means that an approach to education coordinated across the industry will allow us to create partnerships across the global spectrum of education providers for the benefit of the industry.

The consultation paper from the Leasing Foundation is based on the fundamental idea that whatever the Foundation does with our partners, and with and through its governors and fellows and their organisations, must be modern, effective and agile – driven not by those who provide learning and development, but in partnership with those companies and people who need learning and development for their success.

You can find the consultation paper here and we welcome any and all comments.

Following the consultation we’ll create proposals for specific interventions that will deliver more effective education for asset finance – whether that’s developing an apprenticeship framework, establishing a method for evaluating educational offers, or a programme of industry-led high-level training.

Peter Thomas is director of the Leasing Foundation and visiting professor at Brunel University