Global forum imagines the ‘University of the Future’

The reorientation of university curricula towards future needs by emphasising skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution – ICT, entrepreneurialism, intercultural awareness, artificial intelligence, creative thinking and problem-solving – was among a list of 'action-oriented' recommendations adopted by the Global Forum for Higher Education and Scientific Research held in Cairo earlier this month.

Held under the theme "Between the present and the future" in the Egyptian new administrative capital 4-6 April, the forum brought together a range of higher education experts to consider the future of the university in a rapidly changing world and in the particular context of the fourth industrial revolution.

Among the other recommendations produced at the close of the forum, were the adoption of the UN sustainable development goals; the revival of a culture of education among students to emphasise the importance of new skills acquisition rather than certification; a focus on values such as tolerance, solidarity and intercultural dialogue among young people; the development of programmes for future job needs; as well as greater collaboration between academia and industry.

The future university

Participants took time out to describe to University World News what they believe the global 'University of the Future' will look like.

Trey Traviesa, chairman and CEO of MGT Consulting Group in the US, told University World News the future university will be a "rich, multimedia learning experience” which is student-led and defined by excellence in teaching and learning, a balanced commitment to liberal arts and professional learning, and would be a “multi-channel (digital-physical) education experience”.

He said it will involve “integrated, multidisciplinary curricula and collaborative, project-based learning". There would be more emphasis on the cost, versus the value, of degrees and greater “commitment to free expression, open discourse and social impact".

"The present global universities should prepare themselves for the future by moving quickly to innovate, eliminate silos and disrupt from within, to compete and lead according to a new set of rules in higher education," Traviesa said.

Student-centred institutions

Echoing the importance of student-led learning, Professor Carita Prokki, director of TAMK EDU, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Finland, told University World News universities need to “change from professor-centered to student-centred institutions as well as paying more attention to the pedagogies used and the learning processes of students".

"This is a fundamental change," Prokki said. "In big picture terms this means changing from passive to active learning."

Professor John Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, told University World News the future university will be marked by “more immersive learning mediated through faculty and technology".

"Universities will focus curricula on broad social issues approached from a trans-disciplinary perspective. Grading as we understand it will be replaced by group-based assessments," Cavanaugh said.

According to Professor Andrew Balas, leader of the Biomedical Research Innovation Laboratory of United States-based Augusta University, the university of the future will be “open, innovative, collaborative, entrepreneurial, and high tech … The future university will not just prepare for success after graduation but it will be the place where successes are increasingly happening".

Scientific discoveries

"To prepare for such a future, universities should develop a multitude of laboratories that are places not only of learning but new scientific and technical discoveries," he said.

And what about African universities of the future?

Dr MS Shyamasundar, adviser at India's National Assessment and Accreditation Council, said African universities need a "significant enhancement” of investment in research.

“For many universities funding research is a liability to begin with, but it would be an investment in the long run, since it helps the universities to get better projects, publications, patents, citations, high h-indices, etc.

"This may lead to better graduate outcomes and outreach,” Shyamasundar said.

According to Balas, African universities need to “fully embrace” the talent of their faculty, students and laboratories.

Academic freedom and other values

"A new appreciation of academic freedom is needed where professors are not inhibited by constant signature requirements and principal investigators are trusted with managing their own budget," Balas said.

Cavanaugh said African universities “need to adapt to very flexible delivery methods, flexible content, and collaborative learning" and “structure programmes around major societal issues”.

He said they must be globally connected and look at having some of their programmes co-taught with international partners.

He also said African governments should make implementation of sound governance and academic values such as integrity, quality, academic freedom, freedom of inquiry and autonomy a requirement for funding, and establish an accountability process, “so that governments themselves are accountable for implementing the values".