HOW WILL THE UNIVERSITY LOOK IN 2040?  

29 March 2019

Ms Catriona Jackson, Chief Executive, Universities Australia

Catriona heashotThe university of 2040 isn’t a world away. In fact, the campuses of tomorrow are already visible. They are being designed right now – as you’d expect given that universities are the world’s original disruptors.

You can see it in the driverless buses already taking students across campuses at La Trobe and Curtin. And in Deakin’s Genie — a digital personal assistant for every student which schedules their classes, helps tackle assignments and meet deadlines, plans their day, and tells them where to get the best coffee on campus. The future university is emerging before our eyes.

It has ever been thus. From rocket fuel to the flu shot, the seatbelt and solar power, even the humble spreadsheet — all of these and many more innovations have emerged from our universities.

When I think about what universities will look like in 2040, I know there will be no lack of ideas and innovation. The tools we use to find, challenge and communicate ideas may evolve, but the core purpose of a university — to educate ourselves and our communities, to broaden our minds — will endure.

Universities will never sit still, never stop exploring, never stop asking students to respect evidence and expertise but to challenge ideas and conventions at every turn. Universities will never resign themselves to the view that our world cannot be different and better.

Universities will continue to push the boundaries of knowledge, educate the skilled workers and entrepreneurs, generate new jobs and industries, and drive economic and social development.

Much like today, the universities of 2040 will be a profound game-changers.

The university of 2040 will be a place of lifelong learning. It will continue to provide an excellent foundational higher education for the nation’s students. This extends beyond equipping them with professional skills in their discipline — to the wider skills of learning and inquiry that produce worldly, thoughtful and curious minds.

Building on that bedrock, universities will seek a lifelong relationship with their alumni, so when they need a micro-credential unit of study or micro-degree to upgrade a specialist skill, their universities might even know it before they do – and have one tailored to suit.

The student experience will have been transformed by AI and digital technology. Digital personal assistants like Deakin’s Genie will be widespread. But the rise of the robots won’t have dimmed students’ desire for human connection and experiences – quite the opposite. Campus life will continue to be a thriving hub of activity, ideas, debate and experiences.

The university of 2040 will be even more integral to Australia’s startup economy — currently worth $160 billion. They will continue to produce startup founders in extraordinary numbers, building on the four in five founders who were university graduates in 2017. And we will see even more of the university accelerators and hubs that foster startups, building on the 100 we see today.

The university of 2040 will have even deeper connections with industry, including work placements and internships. More schemes will exist like the Monash Industry Team Initiative (MITI), a work placement program that sees high-achieving students help solve industry challenges — from using big data to build the offices of the future to developing autonomous helicopters to fight bushfires.

And there will be even more collaborative research — to the benefit of business and universities alike. 2018 modelling by Cadence Economics for Universities Australia found that there are 16,000 companies already partnering with universities. These companies derive $10.6 billion in revenue from their collaborations. And for every dollar invested in collaborative research with a university, a company stands to get $4.50 in return.

Beyond its work on applied and collaborative research, the university of 2040 will also continue to pursue advances in ‘blue sky’ research. This is the curiosity-driven research that has led to some of the greatest seismic shifts and breakthroughs in our understanding and knowledge. It will continue to be the foundation stone of university research, on which other knowledge is built.

The university of 2040 will continue to be a place that seeks answers to the fundamental challenges of the day; to improve society; and to improve the human condition.

Universities help us realise our own potential. University education and research is not just about filling our minds, it is about showing what our minds can do.

In his keynote address at the 2018 Universities Australia’s Higher Education Conference, Aspen Institute Future of Work initiative co-chair Bruce Reed said:

“Universities will be the Jedi masters who teach us to look inward for the strengths we need to survive and adapt. Universities hone the skills that hold up best and are the hardest to automate: Critical thinking, curiosity, judgment, a willingness to challenge orthodoxy. Universities teach us the skills robots won’t learn unless we teach them: Collaboration, emotional intelligence, the value of community and service, the search for meaning.”

This article originally appeared in The Future of Universities Thoughtbook (Australian Edition). Read more here.