Higher education in 2018 and beyond

Written on January 23, 2018 by Santiago Iñiguez in Education

By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University

W.B. Yeats is often attributed as saying “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Whether the Irish poet ever did so is open to debate, but the quote certainly encapsulates the importance of capturing our students’ imagination and seeing education from their perspective. This outlook is particularly relevant at the turning of the year, a time that provides an ideal opportunity to think about the future of higher education, retaining a realistic outlook without losing sight of our hopes and dreams: I believe universities are one of the pillars our global society is built on and can help to further prosperity, equality and justice.

Allow me to share with you some of the areas where I believe we will see positive transformation in higher education, some of which will be discussed at the next Reinventing Higher Education conference, to be held at IE University in Madrid (5-6 March, 2018).

Taking diversity seriously. We are seeing the formulation of a new relationship contract within the educational community, based on a progressive understanding of diversity. Though much has been achieved in recent decades to promote and embrace diversity, there is still ample room for growth.

Embracing diversity doesn’t just mean a fairer balance in the composition of the different stakeholder groups within a university, from student body to faculty and management, it also requires showing mutual concern and respect for others, particularly in relation to gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, religion, nationality, and more broadly of all visions of the world what constitutes the good life.

We should remember that university has the same root as universal, meaning a space that can be shared by all. This approach brings richness to research, teaching and the whole learning experience.

I am confident that the progress made in embracing diversity as a value is irreversible in our global society, regardless of efforts in some quarters toward limiting access to university, along with visa restrictions and other forms of discrimination, which I am sure will be short lived.

Blending the humanities, STEM and data sciences. Higher education should pursue a holistic approach to educating the next generation of global citizens. This requires studying the humanities, bonding different areas of knowledge, providing depth and critical thinking skills, as well as connecting us with people of different ages and from other cultures.

At the same time, a solid grounding in digital skills, data sciences and technology is demanded by recruiters and knowledge of these areas is essential for would-be entrepreneurs.

Any lingering misconceptions about a supposed contradiction between the humanities and STEM should have been dispelled by now, both by academic research and the simple fact that any number of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs have degrees in the humanities.

Greater use of technology-supported forms of learning. Most university programs today combine traditional classroom-based courses with technology-assisted formats, including videoconferencing, online sessions, MOOCs, SPOCs and a plethora of learning apps.

Technology has the virtue of further humanizing education and adapting learning to the individual’s needs. As other academics have noted, it will not replace professors, but rather enhance their role as conductors of a richer and more sophisticated learning process.

Greater emphasis on applied forms of learning, especially during the final stages of bachelor programs. Reflecting the demands of recruiters, students increasingly want hands-on work experience as part of their studies, allowing them start work the first day after graduation. Introducing work assignments, consultancy projects, internships and other initiatives associated to real life challenges may enhance the acquisition of much-needed practical skills.

Ideally, applied learning projects will take place in different countries, stimulating cross-cultural adaptation and a better understanding of diversity. Also, the implication of students in projects with a social dimension strengthens their sense of identity and commitment as global citizens.

Lifelong education. Given that most of us will continue working longer than previous generations, this is an area with significant potential in higher education, but I wonder if universities are taking it seriously. Addressing the educational needs of the senior segment of the population with the products they need requires further innovation in terms of formats, teaching styles, coaching, and combining learning with covering health and personal needs.

Looking to the future, there is no doubt that education will remain one of the most fascinating and challenging professions. But perhaps the more immediate question we should be asking is whether our universities have the capacity to adapt and transform to meet the new and rapidly changing needs of their main stakeholders.


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