Radical disruption, driven by a new work order, globalisation and rapid technological change, is forcing universities to redefine their role and the value they provide to their students and wider society.
Professor John Dewar, Vice Chancellor of La Trobe University, shares his ideas on what universities of the future will look like, and how they’ll enhance your lifelong learning experience.
Student-centred, interconnected and striving for a better world
Throughout history, universities have had different functions in society. The ideas of Professor Ronald Barnett, Emeritus Professor at the Institute of Education, University of London, are very useful in understanding the evolution of the university and the role it has played at various points in history. Barnett describes the evolution of the university in phases: in medieval times, universities operated in the service of religion and spirituality; post-industrial universities were driven by research that promoted technological advances and economic growth; and contemporary universities have been motivated by self-interest in the face of a competitive market landscape.
But according to Prof Dewar, a new kind of university is emerging.
Personally, I’m drawn to what’s called the ecological university – a university that’s deeply networked to the society around it, makes its knowledge resources freely available, and engages actively to bring about a better world. I believe it’s inevitable. It’s coming,” he says.
“It fits with what we’re doing here at La Trobe – after all, we dedicate our research effort to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems, we commit to educating our students to be global citizens who understand sustainability thinking, and we make our knowledge resources freely available.”
In this future phase – which Prof Dewar calls University 4.0 – universities will shift from being self-focused to being ‘for others’. They’ll become deeply connected to the industries and communities around them. And they’ll become exceptionally committed to serving your needs as a student.
Customised, on-demand education
Universities of the future will offer you access to learning in real time, from anywhere. Your flexible learning experience will be available on-demand, 24/7 and will be tailored to what you want to achieve. And you’ll be able to study in multiple modes, switching seamlessly between on-campus, blended, or wholly online, to suit your lifestyle and fit study with your work and other activities.
A mix of degrees and shorter qualifications
In coming years, degrees won’t be the only qualification a university can offer you. As the world continues to change, you’ll need to top up your skills during your career, or you might want to change industries altogether. Learning never stops. Universities will move toward a mix of degrees and shorter cycle courses. They’ll also work with industry partners to co-create qualifications that respond to industry changes and move rapidly with the changing needs of the workforce.
And your connection with La Trobe won’t end when you finish your undergraduate degree; we’ll work with you throughout your career through our commitment to lifelong learning and our extensive alumni network.
Graduates will top up the skills they’ve acquired during their degree with just-in-time qualifications that flesh out their profile and short, sharp training packages that fix skills gaps,” Prof Dewar says.
Quality career advice
When you graduate from University 4.0, you’ll be educated to compete for the jobs of the future. You’ll leave with the skills employers are looking for and enjoy continuing career management support.
“This will go beyond career advice in the traditional sense. It will extend to ensuring students have the full range of skills they need before and after graduation, so they’re able to successfully navigate the world of work,” Prof Dewar says.
A place for collaboration and entrepreneurship
Future universities will be places where university and industry are co-located and collaborate on projects that solve real-world problems. They’ll become precincts of innovation that actively apply research for community impact. And they’ll broker relationships between young entrepreneurs and mentors, supports and funders.
As industry and universities form deeper partnerships, you’ll benefit from university-based accelerator programs and incubators, where ideas are stimulated and translated into commercial businesses, faster. La Trobe’s degrees and learning activities will be also designed and delivered with industry partners, so you can be sure the skills you develop are relevant for the jobs of the future.
Higher education’s moment of choice
Universities have a choice to make. Exponential changes in technology are driving new industry demands and fresh workforce skills. New providers and think-tanks are entering the university market place and government funding to higher education is changing, too. These challenges are forcing universities to face what Prof Dewar describes as an ‘existential moment’.
When I began my academic career in the early 1980s, questions about the purposes or benefits of universities were rarely asked. This is no longer the case. We need to rethink the role of universities and put them on a trajectory to an ecological model,” he says.
La Trobe’s partnership with Optus exemplifies this trajectory. As a future student at La Trobe, you’ll be able to study at an integrated, digitally-connected university city that operates as a ‘living laboratory’ to trial innovations and test smart cities technologies. You’ll undertake unique multi-disciplinary courses, like the Master of Cybersecurity, that have been co-created with industry. And you’ll have access to a state-of-the-art Sports Park, where local communities participate alongside elite athletes, and where sports data collection and analytics technology generate insights into sport performance, rehabilitation and fan engagement.
It’s just one example of how your future university can be a university for others. Apply now to make La Trobe the university for you.
To learn more about the future vision of Australia’s university sector, watch the live video from our Bold Thinking Series event, The Future of Universities.