Teenagers from 11 countries advise on future of higher education

The private IE University in Spain has turned to 16- to 18-year-olds from 11 countries for advice on the future of higher education.

The teenagers – from countries as diverse as America, Colombia, Germany, India, Peru, Romania, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, Wales and Zimbabwe – flew to Madrid to give their views.

IE University is owned by the business Instituto de Empresa SL, and has campuses in Segovia and Madrid.

Founded in 2009, the junior advisory board (JAB) of IE is a highly select group of pre-university students. The institution employs their insight, energy and excitement to ensure that its educational programmes remain innovative.

“This edition of JAB has focused on the importance of new communication technologies between students and university, the need for diversity in languages, and the importance of international relations and social entrepreneuralism,” said Arantza de Areilza, IE spokesperson and dean of the school of arts and humanities.

This year the meeting, which took place from 27 to 30 March, had five new members. The fact that some students have returned to IE over several years has fostered both enthusiasm and the possibility of developing more complex ideas.

For example, Monica Brova, from Galati in Romania, has just completed her second consecutive stint as a JAB representative in Madrid.

“Initially I was attracted to the innovative idea of a university allowing high school students to express their expectations of higher education,” she says. “But I also realised that the JAB would offer an unparalleled opportunity to learn about university life and education.”

Brova feels that university education must steer away from the traditional model of “huge lecture halls and limited individual attention”, to offer instead a more flexible approach that is tailored to students’ individual needs and learning styles.

“Universities should aim to educate by fostering the growth of the whole person,” she said.

“Specifically, after discussions with fellow JAB members and IE professors over these past few days, I have realised that there is an evolving relationship between nations and the role of non-governmental actors, such as social media, as catalysts of change.

“Students of the future will need to speak three or four languages to communicate effectively and keep themselves informed about these developments in current affairs.”

Clara Bütow from Munich, Germany, agreed. “In the international relations workshop we emphasised the importance of always being up to date. If you want to act in a global environment, you need to have a clear view about the effect that one action can have on everything else.”

Responses received from several of the JAB members seem to confirm that future undergraduates will be looking for innovative universities that employ the latest teaching methods and challenge their students.

“Today’s youth don’t fear leaving their comfort zone or diving into a culture that is totally different to their own: they increasingly want to leave their own country and study in a diverse cultural environment,” said Bütow.

Avneesh Mehta (17), who was encouraged to apply to be a JAB member by his student counsellor in Mumbai, India, was clear that a much more diverse group of students are now looking at the “overall grooming” a university offers, rather than focusing purely on academic results.

“We want something different and unique."

Mehta said IE was an example of an institution that focused on overall student development. “When a student applies to IE, they don’t just need the grades; they need the profile and personality. When a student graduates from IE, they’re not just ready to take up a job; they are prepared to take on the world.”

This article was amended on 20 April 2012 in the light of information from the university.