Dr. Solomon Arulraj David is an associate professor of education at the British University in Dubai. He is also an honorary visiting fellow at the University of Glasgow, UK, and a visiting research associate at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He has a doctorate in education from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, and other degrees from Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, India. He has been an intern at UNESCO (Paris, France), a trainee at European Commission (Brussels, Belgium), has been a volunteer and consultant to various organizations. His key research interests are comparative international higher education, educational management, and policy. He has been invited as a guest speaker/keynote speaker at various occasions/places. He is also a TEDx speaker. He is a licensed (by CAA-UAE) higher educational institution and program reviewer.
Every industry is under pressure to evolve by meeting emerging demands to be future-ready. Education in the particular higher education sector is under such pressure to be futuristic. Being a futuristic university is a two-way process in that education transforms the world and the transformation in the world impacts education. As the world is at the threshold of the fourth industrial revolution, we are on the verge of Education 4.0, which is expecting the educational sector to comply with the economic, social, and technological changes that the world goes through. Such macroeconomic and social change demands universities to be future-ready. A future university is future-ready, offering a forward learning curriculum, enabling instructors and learners to meet the needs of tomorrow, embracing innovation, disruption, and being empowered to deal with uncertainties. While acknowledging several other factors the following are seemingly the top ten indications of a future university.
Broadly Accessible: Higher education is not a luxury anymore and universities are not exclusive clubs of intellectual elites. The current global access to higher education is 38% which is expected to increase steadily. Demographic growth, demand for skilled labor, and the social justice agenda have paved way for more justified access for all to quality higher education. The international finance facility for education launched by the United Nations (UN) recently is expected to tackle the global education crisis relating to access and resource. It is argued that universities that are highly performing are not highly participating while universities that are highly participating are less likely to be high performing. Futuristic universities might debunk this myth to evolve as hybrid universities that are both highly participating and performing.
Commitment to Academic Integrity: Higher education has expanded rapidly in recent decades with a strong private presence and online programs, which involve less credible institutions, individuals, and ideas. In addition, public higher education in many countries as well fails to meet academic standards. Such trends have increased the challenges to establishing and sustaining academic integrity. Futuristic universities would constantly reinvent their commitment to academic integrity underpinned by honesty, trust, and respect as this is the soul of the sector. The role of government, licensing, and regulatory agencies is pivotal to achieving this.
Continuous Quality Improvement: Improving the quality of education is the 4th sustainable development goal (SDG). Futuristic universities are committed to enhancing quality. The rationale of quality assurance is indicated by the emergence of institutional, national, and global quality assurance standards, tools, and agencies. Global university ranking mechanisms along with other quality discourses have disrupted universities to deal with competition, innovation, and transformation. Although the current ranking tools/practices are not perfect they are evolving and will continue to shape quality in higher education as many stakeholders tend to rely on them.
Enhancing Student Experience: Students are central to education and their overall educational experience is key. Moving from content/teacher-focused education to student cantered approach in education has been remarkable while enhancing the student experience is a priority for futuristic universities. The student experience is enhanced when they are well engaged, involved, rewarded, and allowed to take responsibility for their own learning. Listening to students’ voices and the meaning and full use of their feedback will help universities to serve and empower them.
Forward Learning Curriculum: The ever-evolving job market will demand future thinking specializations and a forward learning curriculum. Universities that embrace curricula, courses, programs, and specializations that meet the future demands in the labor market might continue to attract students. The futuristic and forward learning curriculum is frequently updated, and research-focused, having space for creativity and innovation for both instructors and learners. Universities that are futuristic constantly rethink what they teach and how they design and deliver what they teach.
Helping to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals: Education particularly higher education plays a pivotal role to achieve important global goals. The third mission (other than research and teaching) of the university is knowledge and technology transfer for the benefit of society. It is argued that futuristic universities will help big institutions such as United Nations (UN) to achieve SDGs. The 17 SDGs with 169 targets that 191 UN member states agreed to achieve by 2030. Such big ideas need strong support from all sectors including higher education. Futuristic universities realize and hold their moral duties to help achieve SDGs by researching, teaching SDG-focused issues, and disseminating the findings to society.
International Collaboration: Internationalisation dynamics have rapidly shaped higher education in recent years with increased mobility of staff, students, programs, and branch campuses. Universities and academics who are futuristic indicate a strong interest to partner with other counterparts on mutually interesting research and various other academic activities. Collaborative research seems to be highly funded and cited. Meaningful memorandum of understanding and collaborative activities strengthen ties among futuristic universities. International collaboration among universities brings nations together for a common cause that strengthens bilateral and multilateral responses to global issues.
Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning: As instructional science continues to advance, futuristic universities tend to use a variety of pedagogical and assessment strategies suitable to the nature, scope, and applicability of the subjects, particularly to meet the smart learning environments and the millennial / Gen Z learners. Future-oriented universities will embrace emerging trends in teaching and learning (active, blended, hybrid learning, flipped classrooms, inquiry/problem-based learning) in order to strengthen the educational experiences of students. Universities that are futuristic continue to rethink how they teach and assess.
Research Intensity: Generating new knowledge is one of the two important roles of universities (the other being disseminating the new knowledge). Futuristic and innovative universities are committed to investing time and resources in significant research that might have a direct impact on society and the economy. Academic research contributes to nearly 30% of research and development globally, which is expected to increase in the near future as many universities tend to invest in research. Globally 25% of elite universities produce 75% of citable documents which is expected to shift given the wide interest among all universities in research.
Technology Integration: Most universities have already begun to actively integrate technology since the pandemic. This trend will be further shaped by the ever and fast-changing technological world. Universities must continue to adapt to such shifts to cope with futuristic technological trends. The next-generation learning management systems, research software, mobile learning, artificial intelligence, advanced user interfaces, and other emerging tech trends will test universities to raise to the occasion.
University-Industry Relationship: Industries often consider universities as ivory towers isolated from the rest of the real world to produce knowledge that may or may not have an exchange value at the market. A meaningful university and industry collaboration would benefit economic advancement and for the knowledge economy. Futuristic universities may explore strategic collaboration with the industry for collaborative research, co-patterning, and academic spinoffs. Industry exposure through internship and apprenticeship may as well enhance the employable skills of students. Industry linkage seems to enrich the entrepreneurial side of the university while knowledge generated in universities may foster innovation, and competitiveness of business and ultimately benefit economic and social advancement.
Most universities have adapted to the signs of today and are strategically preparing for a better tomorrow. Such universities tend to survive any disruption while others would cease to exist. Universities in general are tempted to change and adapt, however, a strategic introspection for such transformation is essential as this might possibly derail them from their original vision and mission. Therefore, it is important to question, if the change is purpose-driven or flown with the current. A careful introspection to original vision and values, diligent response to disruptions, and openness for innovation and transformation is crucial to shaping the future university. The future will always be rough and tough and universities that are futuristic will be bold and strong to handle it.