Summit offers glimpse of universities of the future

Technological change, digital disruption and the need to foster innovation and adapt education systems were key themes of the World Government Summit, 2016, held in United Arab Emirates last week, according to reports from WAM, the Emirates News Agency.

A tsunami of changes in technology has brought a fourth Industrial Revolution mandating governments to absorb these changes, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, warned.

Addressing the opening day of the summit through a session entitled "The Dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution", he stressed the role of the government in shaping the future for next generations, WAM reported.

Highlighting that the concept of the fourth Industrial Revolution fusing the physical, digital, and biological sphere deals with the crucial and overwhelming changes that technology has brought in, Schwab emphasised the three absolute changes that governments must undertake.

First, government must recognise their roles and foster innovation. Second, governments will need to reorganise themselves as platforms for innovation. The traditional hierarchical approach must be re-evaluated. Third, governments must recognise that the availability of human talent adds a valuable competitive advantage to nations.

Schwab said: "Governments must put the whole emphasis on the development of human capital. Capitalism in some ways has been replaced by talent-ism."

He added that the challenge lies in the fact that governments will need to integrate all parts of population into the talent pool.

To overcome the traditional ways of governing, governments must keep pace with fast-changing systems and uphold long-term visions.

Schwab added: "The new technological transformation can serve as an entry card for humanity to step into a new civilisation. It is this concept that underlines our aspiration for mankind to shape planet earth into a real human place. This task is a united responsibility to create a more sophisticated and enlightened humanity."

The World Government Summit on 8-10 February brought together more than 3,000 participants from 125 countries. The summit seeks to explore more than 70 topical issues through the participation of world leaders, ministers, decision-makers, CEOs, innovators, officials, experts, entrepreneurs, academics and university students.

Dr Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of XPrize, and co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University – a graduate-level Silicon Valley institution that advises world leaders on exponentially growing technologies – said creating curiosity among young people so they discover their passions, take their own moonshots and bring their own dreams to life, will be the role universities play in the future, WAM reported.

Diamandis offered participants a preview of the exponential leap that education is set to take as modern technologies including artificial intelligence or AI, virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing and robotics converge in the near future.

"A classroom where everything you question can come to life will be fascinating," added Diamandis, while demonstrating how regular classrooms will become tedious to students exposed to modern technologies which deliver a vivid and immersive learning experience.

Universities of the future

Describing the traits of the 'University of the Future', he listed the following factors:

  • • Personalised: Every young person will have education customised to their individual requirements through AI, where the teacher would know exactly what interests them, and what their capabilities, strengths and weaknesses are;
  • • Free: The best education in the world for every young person will be demonetised, just as present day search engines have provided free access to information to anyone that seeks it;
  • • On-demand/Just in time: Lessons will be delivered exactly when one needs to learn them and learning will continue throughout one’s lifetime;
  • • Virtualised: Classroom sessions will be conducted primarily for sports, to promote teamwork and the social experience;
  • • Inspirational: Education will help young people realise their dreams and ambitions by pushing them to learn more about things that truly interest them.

Diamandis elaborated, with examples of technologies such as 3D Printing and AI, on how processes such as ‘designing’ a garment, or a machine, or even a building could be revolutionised.

With education set to employ disruptive and innovative techniques, over 50% of all jobs in the world will be performed by AI. The true skills imparted through education would be the ability to express oneself, describe what one wants to know and leverage technology to find the solution.

Eventually, as Diamandis puts it: "The quality of your questions will define what you learn."

Reviving Arab science

Meanwhile, in another session Jim Al-Khalili, professor of theoretical physics and chair in the public engagement in science at the University of Surrey, UK, said people acknowledge that there is a problem today with scientific achievements in the 21st century in the Arab world, WAM reported.

''Some view street signs with suspicion as imposed by the West and less than half of a percent of the gross domestic product of many Muslim countries is spent on research and development, woefully little compared to the rest of the world," he said.

Al-Khalili reminded delegates about the achievements of the 9th century ‘Golden Age of Science’.

"Scholars back then believed profoundly that God had given them brains to seek knowledge to understand the world better, to understand the words of the Quran – they were curious about the world. This is the most important thing about science," he explained.

According to Al-Khalili there was no reason why the region couldn’t revive the thirst for knowledge.

"Driving the thirst for knowledge is the way we solve problems for the betterment of humanity," he stated, adding that the picture today wasn’t entirely bleak, citing examples of knowledge-seeking in the region, such as educational cities in the Gulf and scientific research facilities in the Levant.

This article is reproduced from three reports that first appeared on