From September 25 to September 27, 2018, the World Academic Summit organized by the Times Higher Education International Agency was held at the National University of Singapore. The organizers designated the theme of the conference as “The transformative power of research, advancing knowledge, driving economy, building nations”. Leaders of higher education – more than 400 participants from 51 countries, attended the conference. They discussed the missions and tasks of universities in the modern period, in particular, whether universities can provide growth in the field of knowledge development and economic development, as well as how better joint efforts could improve the work of higher education institutions, policy makers, and the private sector in their high mission to create resilient communities and nations [10times, 2018 ].
The high level of participants did not turn this event into a series of parade reports on the achievements of certain universities or national higher education systems. The participants demonstrated understanding the challenges facing higher education systems, reviewed real and actual problems during presentations and discussions, and actively participated in the survey conducted during the summit for further analysis and synthesis of existing experience in this area.
Understanding that education and research are key factors in improving the quality of life and stimulating economic and social development coexisted with the expectation of new challenges in the development of higher education, the list of which in part varies from country to country, but basically has a common set of problems – financial, recruiting, technological, but primarily related to quality standards, compliance with the requirements of new conditions of modern life.
Obviously, the calm sedentary life of campuses is a thing of the past. In order to preserve its status today, many world universities are seeking to master new spaces and identify new perspectives, for example, in the field of commercialization of scientific research through innovative entrepreneurship, the creation of partnerships, the so-called synergistic cooperation [THE World Academic Summit, 2018].
Searches in this direction were extremely diverse; some of them have gone far ahead of the general echelon of universities. Therefore, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), which has a rich tradition of project-based learning, developed an innovative “constructive failure” approach, that is, putting students into an environment where they fail so that they can learn from their failure and really grow professionally and personally. Moreover, as professor Guzella, a representative of this institute, admitted, students were offered to solve problems that do not have a solution. As it turned out, the “constructive failure” approach was also being implemented at the National University of Singapore. However, NUS also sends hundreds of students abroad every year to places like Silicon Valley and Shanghai, where they work in start-ups during the day and study at partner universities in the evening.
Peking University adopted a different strategy – blurring the boundaries between disciplines. Created 10 interdisciplinary research institutes already give innovative ideas and actively cooperate with various companies [Bothwell, 2018].
The discussion at the plenary meeting of the Summit and in the sections showed that with the significant similarity of classical universities, national education systems have clearly expressed specific features. For example, Singapore has long been considered a producer of students who perform well on tests; even Singaporean schoolchildren regularly rank high in international tests conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, called the International Student Assessment Program. However, even Singapore experts admit that their students are creatively passive, they do not develop innovative ideas, and they do not support the competitive spirit [THE, 2018]. Minister for Education, Mr. Ong Ye Kung believes that a possible solution for the awakening of students’ creativity may be not only flipped classes, but also the “flipped professors”, as he put it. Obviously, he was talking about a radical restructuring of the methodology, strategy and tactics of the educational process by the professors.
In the same vein, is the paper of Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal and president of the University of Glasgow, who speaks about another – the third mission of professors – in addition to training and research. He sees this mission in knowledge exchange, that could be industrial innovation, or working on an important project around dealing with, for example, migrant crises [Bothwell, 2018].
Toronto’s provost, Cheryl Regehr, said, that not to lose the creative researchers, they decided to share their best staff with business structures, they allow them to act as external consultants, creating joint employment structures and providing sheets of absence, strengthening links between the research university and employers, despite the problems associated with these types of employment [Basken, 2018].
The Corresponding Member Evelyn Welch, Royal College of London, spoke about another equally important topic. She addressed in her speech an acute problem of the need to change the ranking parameters when ranking universities. Every year it is becoming more and more obvious that the criteria for the first Shanghai International League Table in 2003, which had an impact on the higher education sector, had a habituation effect; most universities adapted to it, which began to produce the expected results according to the ranking. However, if universities were evaluated by different parameters, say, by the level of poverty around campuses, by per capita income within a radius of 20 km, no matter how unusual it might sound, they would have had to change radically. Other tasks would force universities to seek other solutions, perhaps more tied to the social needs of society.
Another example of changing research strategies was cited by Michael Spence, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, who said that Charles Perkins University Center had invited researchers from various fields of medicine, biology, business, architecture and agriculture, and proposed to solve the problems of treating obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It is still difficult to talk about the results, but this experience shows that the real problem requires the work of different specialists within the same team [Ross, 2018].
A Times Higher Education poll by a university in 2030, conducted among university leaders, showed that the majority of respondents believe that digital technology will not cancel campus-based learning. The model of the university, with its face-to-face teaching form, still has a healthy future. Although 63% of respondents believe that prestigious universities will offer a full course online by 2030, however, only 24% believe that online courses will be more popular than university ones by 2030, with against 53%. Only 19% believe that digital technology should completely replace human lectures by 2030, compared with 65 percent who disagree. The essence of the arguments “against” lies in the fact that human contact is still important for fruitful learning and collaboration in research, as well as for instilling in students values and behaviors.
To understand the complex concept, they say, you need not only to read about it, but also to physically see someone who explains it. Jane Gatewood, vice-provost for global engagement at the University of Rochester in New York state, believes that the emotional argument for the value of the human factor is that when graduates — the most important source of university funding — return to campus, they don’t talk about knowledge accumulated by them when they were students. Rather, they talk about their professors. Therefore, these things are crucial for them.
Moreover, some respondents believe that in the future, students will value personal participation in universities even more than they do now. This means that the Oxford / Cambridge model of learning, proven for decades and even centuries, based on tutorial-based classes, will retain its appeal to those who have an academic or financial choice of place of study.
Yang Hai Wen, vice president of the Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, was also skeptical about the likelihood of full digitalization of education by 2030. Some university leaders in the United States also emphasized that “living” universities, while maintaining a face-to-face interaction format, help young people become adults. However, researchers found that blended learning — a mixture of online learning and real life — exceeds each of them individually, offering the best of both learning formats.
Another trend in the world educational system, which was indicated by the survey results, is that 55 percent of respondents from the survey predict that by 2030 they will train most of the mature students, in North America their share may be 63 percent. In this regard, professional development courses increase their popularity, while MOOCs have not reached the scale that was originally intended. Apparently, the lack of motivation of students by courses that are not included as constituent elements in the educational programs and do not provide professional competence affects the low level of completion of the MOOC, this trend was mentioned by Fabio Massaci, the representative of the rector for national and international ratings at the University of Trento in Italy.
In accordance with this attitude, it is not surprising that the majority of respondents also agree that science will develop primarily with the help of the human brain. When asked whether they believe that artificial intelligence will ultimately compete with human researchers in creating new theories and knowledge, 50 percent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed, compared with 26 percent who agree.
Interestingly, the overall results show a significant geographic difference in opinions regarding technology. Leaders of Asian universities tend to be less conservative in their predictions for the future than representatives of other continents. They are more likely to believe that artificial intelligence will ultimately compete with human researchers. In addition, 35% of Asian leaders believe that the physical lecture will disappear by 2030; in North America, this figure is only 3 percent, and in Europe – 14 percent [Matthews, 2018].
The general feeling of concern and some confusion of higher education managers is evident in all countries of the world, not only the speeches of the speakers testify to this, but also the results of the survey conducted during the summit. Some of the above problems are relevant for Kazakhstan education, which with some time lag could face the set of problems discussed during the Singapore Summit, although it reacts to them more impulsively. The tendency toward a partly conservative model and methodology in the academic space of Kazakhstan can be explained not so much by the long traditions as in European and American universities, but by a lesser degree of digitalization than in Asian educational systems and, possibly, fatigue from the protracted reform process.
10times. (2018). Retrieved from https://10times.com/world-academic-summit-singapore. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
THE World Academic Summit. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.theworldsummitseries.com/events/the-world-academic-summit-2018/custom-18-959e1e6cf1da41e0a093350cec4d7fdd.aspx. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Bothwell, E. (2018) Lecturers ‘must create culture of constructive failure’. Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/lecturers-must-create-culture-constructive-failure. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Times Higher Education, (2018). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/video-conversation-ye-kung-minister-education-singapore. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Bothwell, E. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/german-university-open-museum-showcase-research-impact. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Basken, P.,(2018) Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/academia-shares-research-stars-industry-avoid-losing-them. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Ross, J., (2018). Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/new-metrics-needed-encourage-interdisciplinary-research. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Matthews, D., (2018) Retrieved from https://www.timeshighereducation.com/features/how-will-technology-reshape-university-2030. Accessed on 08.10.2018.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.