The Future of Universities Thoughtbook: Placing Universities in a Time Machine Capsule for a Day

Authored by

Polyphonous Visions on Future University Roles

Are universities doomed or are they about to experience a renaissance and more central role in our societies? As the rate of change in our societies accelerates and technology is increasingly embraced, universities are set to be challenged like never before. Envisaging how the future of universities would unfold in the light of these challenges may seem like a difficult task, but it is a necessary one for universities to take in order to avoid a more pessimistic future. This is precisely the task tackled by The Future of Universities Thoughtbook (FUT_). Collating together diverse voices and narratives, FUT_ sketches out the future roles of universities, as well as their relevance and position within the wider ecosystem of knowledge and innovation production. In doing so, a rich palette of university future scenarios comes to light.

FUT_ is a joint project initiated by University Industry Innovation Network in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, Science-to-Business Marketing Research Center, Siemens and Global University Engagement Monitor. It provides illuminating insights from global experts including leaders from business, higher education sector, science, policy agencies, and governments as they try to elucidate what the universities will look like in the future. Owing to their expertise and positions the contributions have been able to provide a thought-provoking 360-degree review of universities and how they could potentially impact our societies into the future.

“We need to understand that in a world of rapid evolution and change, the legislation concerning higher education cannot be too restrictive: flexibility needs to be a built-in feature of universities.”

― Ms. Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, Minister of Education, Finland

More Complex Contexts to Dictate University Directions

The 40 visions in the book are divided into 6 thematic sections – Disrupting Teaching and Learning, Collision of Technology and Humanity, Future of Science and Academic World, Socially-Engaged Universities, University-Business Cooperation and Institutional Change. Visions within the section Disrupting Teaching and Learning predominantly call for culture and paradigm shift in how education is conceived and how it is executed. There is a pressing urgency to frame education in a way that is more open, interconnected with labor market and diverse in pedagogical approaches. Collision of Technology and Humanity zooms in on how the impetus of technological advances (such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things, etc.) can be leveraged so universities connect the dots better between different fields, thus contributing to their innovative endeavors and outputs.  Future of Science and Academic World underlines the volatility of academic world, which will likely occur due to an increasing number of stakeholders and interests playing out in the academic and science arenas. This in turn is likely to contribute to more fluidity and blurriness in the areas that have hitherto been contained to silos. The section on Socially Engaged Universities makes a strong case for a greater university involvement in tackling societal challenges. Missions, such as UN Sustainable Development Goals, can only be attained with the active engagement of universities in the story. University-Business Cooperation emphasizes the importance of universities leaving the limitations and constraints of ivory towers and becoming more outward-looking. An untapped potential for future research, education and innovation lies in the partnerships between universities and industries. Lastly, Institutional Change advocates for policies to be more in tune with changes happening “on the ground”, so that the university transformation can take place in a more harmonious and well-orchestrated fashion. Therefore, due to the fast-paced, ever-evolving technology-backed environments, there is a growing need for policies to be more flexible and passed more quickly.

“Much more important than which jobs will disappear or how many alternative jobs will emerge as a result of digitalization, such as robotisation and artificial intelligence, is the question of the changes in the tasks of professionals, even the more stable ones.”

Dirk Van Damme, Head of Division, Directorate for Education & Skills, OECD

With different foci, each of the sections and visions contributes to creating insightful fora for further dialogue on how universities would shape the future by 2040. With the growing complexities and multiplication of voices, contexts and missions, universities are likely to become a modern-day equivalent of the Titan Atlas who carried the entire world on his back. Either way, there are no signs that universities will fall in the background any time soon.

If you want to learn more, read original visions or download your FREE version of the book, please visit the official website here.