Predicting the future is an impossible and futile exercise, hence effective ways of anticipating future events are few and far between. Well intended future predictions often become amusing quotes in presentations many years later. Such as, the advice from a president of the Michigan Savings Bank given to Henry Ford’s lawyer Horace Rackham not to invest in the Ford Motor Co: “The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.”

Nevertheless, the exercise of estimating or predicting the future triggers (1) simultaneous consideration of the events of the past, (2) estimation of the present situation, the most important forces affecting it and factors for success as well as (3) brainstorming and analysing the likely future development possibilities. These aspects are the key elements of strategy development. Yes, the future may be impossible to predict, but by working together to envisage a course for a desirable ‘tomorrow’, it is possible to embrace adaptability and innovativeness and ultimately turn uncertainty into opportunity.

Given this highly complex activity and the high likelihood of error, the approach taken in this Thoughtbook was to invite global experts to offer a diversity of perspectives. We really wanted to challenge the thinking about the university by selecting authors who:

are already challenging and shaping the development of universities,
are present or future ‘game-changers’ and ‘thought-leaders’,
potentially already have a prominent position of power with respect to universities globally,
together can provide a 360-degree view of universities from the vantage of different stakeholder groups.

In doing so, a range of ‘possible futures’ emerge, from more conservative estimations predicting ‘business as usual’ for universities, to situations whereby universities are superseded by technology and/or new market-facing competitors. These ‘possible futures’ then provide a basis for the better establishment of university and industry strategies, which enable more efficient investment of resources and more productive outcomes.

When reading the contributions, a general consensus around the opportunities and threats facing universities emerge. Like our experts’ contributions, you will undoubtedly lurch from optimism to doom with respect to the future of the university, and back again. If this is the case, then we have achieved our major ambition with the Thoughtbook! … to take your thinking about the university of the future to pieces, and then offer insights into how you can piece a realistic future view back together.

Considering this, the Future of Universities Thoughtbook (FUT) becomes a manifesto for the development of the Future-Oriented University. A vision for the university by 2040 (University 4.0) whereby academics and students work in real time symbiotic partnerships with industry, government and societal stakeholders to simultaneously create and implement new knowledge and solutions to address business and social issues. Those universities that drive change hard within their institutions will get a head start on the rest by embracing uncertainty and a more innovative evolution whilst, if some of the contributions are precise, having a better chance of surviving.

FUT_ Founding Team
Todd Davey, Arno Meerman, Balzhan Orazbayeva, Carolin Plewa and Victoria Galan Muros