6 ways to future-proof universities

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Members of the Global University Leaders Forum community came together at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting to discuss their role in the present dynamic environment. At the end of the meeting, six topics were listed as the key priorities as members deemed the future of the university and its role in the society.

The six topics include the introduction of data science 101, embedding ethics, making data open and interoperable, consulting social scientists in tech research, embracing the usefulness of useless knowledge and seeking the right role for reskilling.

In the present-day, data is boundless and usually compelling. While not all graduates will enter data-related fields, universities will have to begin working towards enhancing data literacy among students by including data science modules and challenges for social science majors so that graduates can effectively interact with data-oriented individuals in their social network.

In addition, new technologies have been created for the greater good of humanity. However, the fourth industrial revolution may lead to several questions about the values integrated in these new technologies. STEM students could benefit from engaging with liberal arts discipline to assist them in coping with these larger questions. Many universities have since tried various means to integrate ethics into commonly programmed courses, as there is no one interpretation of ethics. For instance, Harvard University is tapping onto philosophy graduate students as teaching staff and assistants for some computer science courses, in addition to promoting jointly established courses across these disciplines and others.

Open science is a key challenge for research today. Many innovations today revolve around the aggregation of large data sets. Therefore, it is critical to develop the ability to consolidate or share data sets with losing control of the primary data. Hence, data sets are often retained by universities and non-profits, there is a room for universities to partake in the design of data-sharing, and through interoperable means.

In addition, today social sciences play a part in navigating inventions and moderating “techlash” – challenges involving ethics and logic governing new technologies. Time-honed methodologies can uncover governance-related questions, and understand how receptive are consumers and the public are to the possible alternatives. A study carried out by researchers at the University of Campinas, Brazil demonstrated how a lack of public education about developments in biotechnology and genetically modified food, 22 years after the first genetically modified food entered market, was still facing resistance in the society.

Further, research with no immediate application is often vulnerable to labels such as “ridiculous” or “dumb”. However, due to a shift in happenings, these “useless knowledge” are now becoming significant. Universities will need their partners in innovation ecosystems – in industry and in government – to help push forward the generation of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

Last but not least, reskilling is an inevitable challenge for society. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Future of Jobs Report revealed that “By 2022, no less than 54% of all employees will require significant re- and upskilling.”

Universities are kept abreast of the role they have to play. As such, the National University of Singapore has implemented a lifelong learning programme in 2018. It allows alumni to participate in continuing education and training courses for up to 20 years after the admitted making certain that they have the right skills for our rapidly changing global economy.

Organisations are also leveraging university expertise to retain their workforce. For instance, AT&T launched a $1 billion initiative titled “Future Ready” to retain close to half its employees that are lacking relevant skills. It allows its employees to attain new qualifications, culminating in either MA or MSc degrees or badges that warrant the attainment of certain competences.

Source: World Economic Forum 

Participating in the upcoming QS-MAPLE 2019 under the theme of “Promoting Research in the Middle East and Africa” from 22-25 April 2019 in Dubai, UAE.