The future of higher education holds unprecedented challenges. How do we prepare individuals to bring about sustainable development that also enhances people’s quality of life?
So far, education has progressed efficiently to invent and discover but has significantly compromised on issues of sustainability. The need to include Sustainable Development Goals in each field of human life is a gaping reality. Hence, knowledge generation cannot be left to chance and higher education systems will need to take charge.
It is commonly thought that higher education has a two-fold objective: to provide employment opportunities and to generate knowledge. Both have a common objective of improving the quality of our lives.
The world of business has also matured beyond the industrial and information revolution into a stage of social revolution, as the younger generation cares less about survival or comfort and increasingly embraces a quality life.
Innovative business roles like Chief Belief Officer, Innovation Evangelist, Futurologist, Change Agent and Happiness Engineers, to name a few, are among the rapidly evolving future jobs. The massification of higher education across the world is another reality that can no longer be ignored.
With human well-being becoming central to business ideas, are our universities prepared to take a dynamic leap? Universities that do not subscribe may become globally non-competitive in future.
Universities need to rethink their role
Schools provide an opportunity for the progressive ripening of minds, during which children become capable of forming general ideas that must be based upon certitude. This certitude can be provided by scientific knowledge. But higher education also requires ideals for the formation of mental constructs so that diverse, scattered and contradictory concepts can be synthesised and organised into actionable thoughts.
What universities choose to propagate at this stage determines the direction of our development. If consumerism is preferred over the idea of universalism in universities, technological progress will take place accordingly. In the longer run, this may not remain as lucrative a path to a newer generation seeking a quality life.
At present, most universities are trudging along aiming to promote free will, innovation and sustainability, creating a world where economically viable decisions take precedence over socially viable ones.
But we forget that every purely economic decision has a social cost which translates into an economic cost for the future. Climatic changes leading to global warming and the extinction of species are some examples.
Universities now have the delicate task of balancing technology and social well-being when it comes to development.
Consider a dam being built without any deliberation about the biodiversity of a region. This will have socio-environmental implications for the future. Consider the dam being built with a team of engineers and socio-environmental experts. Likely, many non-economic, socio-environmental implications will be overlooked or subjugated. Now consider an engineer who has been educated to reflect upon biodiversity as an integral component of any holistic plan. This will not only save on the cost of human resources, but will make for a seamless, non-conflicting proposal. Businesses, over time, will prefer this option.
How do we get there?
To get to that position will require liberating the higher education system of its shackles of safe mediocratic progress and an acceptance of the need to relearn. It may include learning from indigenous knowledge systems, engaging locally to globalise local knowledge systems and doing research aimed at revolutionising the curriculum and pedagogy of universities.
Merely envisioning a democratic, communist or socialist political regime without providing support for this kind of transformation will not satisfy the next generation who are willing to go an extra mile for change. The future of globally competitive universities lies therein.
Another significant future role and opportunity for universities lies in reaching out to communities and investing in lifelong learning. With social ventures picking up the pace, the future of jobs rests extensively on bringing about social change.
By engaging with local communities and delving into local problems, the future of jobs is also about making local knowledge globally available.
This requires the constant evolution of the higher education system in terms of revision and enlarged frameworks which include fresh notions to help reclassify and reorganise our thinking.
All contradictions can be transformed into complementary ideas if the higher idea of universal equity behind them is clear and every problem is holistically considered from this standpoint.
Thus, it is with great care that the central ideas in education must be chosen by universities because their future and ours depends on this.
Charles Wright Mills’ idea of the sociological imagination may help us achieve this feat. Mindful students, educated in the philosophy of universalism and engaged in locally relevant issues, can become globally competitive in a world that is focused on ensuring a sustainable and quality life for all.
This revamped university education system can become an instrument that helps us to meet the future demands of businesses and peoples and maintains its niche at the forefront of innovative thinking.