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The future of the Universities

Iosu Zabala Rector of Mondragon Unibertsitatea

Over the next few years, universities will be facing several fundamental challenges that go far beyond changes, most of them superficial, that they must legally incorporate into their process of adapting to the European Higher Education Space. To be more specific, I will refer to two of them and I would like to think that for the time frame of 2020 they will have been capable of meeting them although, despite the horizon still seeming a long way off, it is not too hard to imagine that more than one university will be experiencing serious adaptation problems around that time.

Because this is really an adaptation problem. Adapting and responding, not just because of legal obligations, to the changing needs of society and the immense digital-cultural gap that is opening up between younger generations and not so youthful teachers as a consequence of the new game rules that new technologies and social networks are imposing. I am referring to new ways of learning, new ways of teaching and the role that these processes are going to play for teaching, learning and the resources used in both processes.

As far as the culture gap is concerned, the greatest problem for education lies in the fact that the instructors, “digital immigrants”, talk and teach using out of date language and methods, from the pre-digital age and they are fighting to teach a population that speaks this new language perfectly and by now are “natives” in the digital language of computer games, videos and Internet and so, of course, have different expectations. “Digital natives” are used to receiving information really fast. They like parallel processes and multi-tasks. They prefer graphics to text. They perform better working in a network. They prosper when they receive immediate satisfaction and frequent rewards.

Photo: Bombardier

Photo: Bombardier.

I would like to believe that universities will have incorporated the latest pedagogic innovations into their learning processes by 2020. Universities will be set up as socially extended learning communities; they will have moved beyond the classrooms and the physical environment and will have ways of learning and attempting to build knowledge openly, in networks and shared between tutors-teachers and students-apprentices.

The second challenge that I trust universities will have met by 2020 is overcoming its ancestral tradition of being universities “essentially for young people” to become universities “for all ages and for everyone” in a globalised competitive framework where each person will have to develop their own specialisation niche.

Universities must provide a satisfactory response to training needs and updating individuals and/or company professionals who wish to widen their studies, in regulated or non regulated training, except for the limitations and conditioning factors imposed by geographic distance and an offer subject to rigid calendars. By 2020 they should be in a position to satisfactorily respond to citizens’ growing needs to train throughout their entire lives.


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