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The big challenges to higher education

By February 17, 2020 No Comments

How higher education must re-think the education model and adapt to the future of work.

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It is not true that robots will eat human beings! Digital Revolution will bring a disruptive change in every aspects of the life. In particular in the job market the scenarios will be unprecedented.

There are a significant number of predictions and analyses about the risks posed by advances in these technologies. A OECD research estimates that about 14% of jobs across its member countries are highly automatable without considering the transformations of the other ones. It won’t only be a matter of transformation, but also of way of working. A research of the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 20-30% of the working-age population in the United States and the European Union is engaged in technology-enabled and on-demand, independent work; a number that is expected to grow. Plus, digital transformation will bring many opportunities and sources of new jobs.

In this radically disrupted scenario, education is crucial to managing the challenges ahead. The pressure on the higher education systems is quickly increasing because of the urgent need to adapt the learning experience to fields not yet codified (Creativity, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, just to cite the most relevant), as well as to the wide use of digital technology in the learning process. Yet, higher education is still too slow: the universities themselves are afraid about the fast capability to adapt their offer to future development.

The higher education will strongly affect the capability of youth to compete in the job market, to successfully manage the digitalization and to be sustainable future leaders. That is why universities will play a strategic role in leading the up-skilling and re-skilling process required by the 4IR.

The creation of entire new industries, the radical transformation of the existing ones, and the disruptive impact of the digital technologies are requiring a new skills-set to keep up the changes. If STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) will be essential, a flexible growth mindset will serve students well across the global, knowledge-based economy. Students must learn how to approach problems from many perspectives, cultivate and exploit creativity aimed also to complex problem solving, and leverage critical thinking. All fields not yet codified! The new education systems should aim to break the traditional boundaries among fields, and facilitate the contamination between traditional and new, such as behavioral economics or computational biology with design, arts, and technology. The purpose must be to enhance youth to contamination, and think and work across boundaries. To that aim, technology should be the most powerful driver: AI-based learning tools have incredible potential to personalise education, enhance college readiness and access, improve educational outcomes, as well as narrow socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps among students.

Higher education is unique in its power to catalyse social mobility, serving to bridge social, economic, racial, and geographic divides like no other force. To that aim, I believe higher education will face some big challenges.

The challenge of the life-long learning. It is not only be a matter of radically changing the education system, but also of making available learning paths along all the life. Technology, automation, fluid employment are making not enough the traditional learning only in the early part in life, and will increasingly require a constant up-date for the lifetime of work in a not-linear world.

The challenge of radically different students’ behaviour. Expectations and needs of students and life-long learners are another relevant driver of change. Younger generations are digital natives, with a full integration of technology into most aspects of their lives. The concept of customized and personalized learning pathways will impressively increase its relevance and its central role in order to allow students to meet more and more their talents and attitudes.

The challenge of technology itself. Many new actors are changing the traditional education landscape: fast-growing innovators and outsiders are disrupting the boundaries as well as the status quo. The wide use of digital technologies (AI, AR, VR) and the big data insights are making available new tools and pathways aimed at enhancing the engagement of the learning experience, as well as at customizing it. The trend will require a strong and close cooperation between public and private sector.

The cultural challenge. One of the most disruptive change in education systems must be related to the traditional score, traditional assessment or traditional degree model. While the degree can be the first screening standard for corporate recruitment policies, whether traditional higher education is still the best way to provide people with the skills needed to compete in unpredictable job markets is debatable. In addition, the employability and the job performance does not depend on degree.

The challenges of higher education are very critical: universities must re-think their business models and education models if they want to become the very change-agents of youth. They must go out from their “comfort zone” and go though alternative and different models. That will be the only key successful factor to trainee future leaders able to change the world and to make it really sustainable.

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