The old narrative of “universities of the future” focused on changes within the current structure of higher education. The new narrative of “universities for the future” not only focuses on internal structural changes but also evaluates the broader environment including technological, economic and social changes—locally and globally—and how institutions then deliver on what is required. Universities for the future actively shape the future rather than react to it. Educational cultures, processes and systems that are not modernised or user friendly, risk being viewed as inert or stagnant.
The difference between the two narratives is the focus on growth and development: universities of the future will find it tough to enhance learning and improvement despite the wealth of opportunity provided by technology and innovation. Whereas universities for the future are more proactive— seeking to address current global challenges as outlined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, but also looking at future cities’ growth and the internet of things. Universities of the future work to design the learning experience whereas universities for the future work to understand the learning experience and innovate accordingly.
Overall, the fundamental tenants of higher education will not change but the technologies, students and expectations on universities and its stakeholders will. The universal concepts of learning, research, and innovation will strengthen the current systems to make the shift towards being institutions for the future.
How do we create institutions that are dynamic enough to keep in synch with the times but traditional enough to deliver on their mandates to educate and serve stakeholders? To answer this, we need to look at developing not only the learners but also those imparting knowledge. Developing the next generation of researchers and academics read to engage the challenges and mould the future is paramount to creating and strengthening the university for the future but this alone will not move the sector towards the future. In order to increase global competitiveness as well as employability of graduates, universities must be steadfast in creating and delivering on stronger measures that improve university governance and teaching quality. Strong leadership that is open to doing things differently by taking the lead in areas such as gender mainstreaming, international partnerships and change management will thrive in this new environment. Are we preparing learners for a world of social networks and disruptive technology? As a sector, we must be steadfast enough to embrace the paradigm of effective leadership, and not old-style management to lead to greater successes.
The university for the future will need to be a place where resources are given to develop delivery systems. Educators will be facilitators and not sole suppliers of knowledge, learning will be blended and created through facilitation, evidence-based learning and cooperative education with business and the third sector. The university for the future will need the right inputs: international awareness and a highly proactive approach to the overall global agenda. In turn, they will be able to produce globally aware learners as well as competent leaders, educators, innovators, builders and creators.