Change is in the air. The Covid-19 crisis has turned our lives upside down, but well before this happened there was already a palpable feeling that today’s challenges are changing society in unpredictable ways. Climate change and its containment pose a historical test for humanity. Technological change gives us new possibilities, as well as great responsibility to curb any negative effects. And we live in times of geopolitical upheaval, in which Europe is still finding its place.
The European University Association (EUA) is working to capture and give direction to change by creating a vision for universities in 2030. How can universities both adapt to and drive the changes we are experiencing? At the same time, how can we protect and nurture the values that make universities what they are: institutions of open, critical and evidence-based discussion.
Universities in the coming decade should be without walls, open to all who seek the lights of learning, as well as those who want to partner with universities to create knowledge. Digitalisation has already broken down physical walls; students can attend classes from afar either towards a degree or to add to their skills. Learners of all types also need to be present on campus, in an environment that challenges them and fosters new ways of thinking about the world. Identifying the purposes of virtual and physical presence, and ensuring the right balance between them, will no doubt be a major topic for university leaders in the future.
The role of universities in their regions has grown as they play a bigger role in innovation ecosystems and engage citizens more systematically in their activities. Universities work in partnership with SMEs and large companies through placements for students and doctoral candidates, through common research projects and by doing challenge-based learning together. They also engage in mobilising citizens as partners in research. Universities are a bridge to the rest of the world. They bring perspectives, ideas and people into their communities in a way and at a scale that no other institution can match.
However, the days are over when more internationalisation was a goal in itself. In a less open and trustful world, questions are increasingly being raised about cooperation with countries that do not share Europe’s values, or countries that we see as threats to technological sovereignty. The technological transformation also raises questions about the use of the knowledge that we share.
The next decade could well be the time for universities to rebalance their relations both with their immediate community and with the rest of the world. Openness will always be at the core of university values, but how to retain and nurture it in a changing world will be an important challenge.
This article was originally published in the 360upf magazine in the autumn of 2020.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.