Imagine… a university campus with no students

Imagine… a university campus with no students

Many of the realities of this new millennium have been difficult to predict let alone imagine: September 11? Twitter? President Trump? The metamorphoses of universities are no different. As we transition from the third to the fourth industrial revolution an era defined by the blurring of the physical, digital and biology worlds – we experience the evolution of our university campuses and the impact upon those they employ, provide for and engage with.

History shows the role of universities was well understood during the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. Academic discovery and university patronage fostered new ways of thinking and innovations including L’Enclopedia, the telescope, laws of gravity and the invention of steam.

Communities at that time must have heard the future whispers of 1970’s US Senator Daniel Moynihan: ‘If you want to build a great city, create a great university and wait 200 years’. As a consequence, many have benefitted from this vision of creating places that are magnets for talent, incubators for ideas and laboratories for learning.

Now in an era MIT Professor Neri Oxman calls the ‘Age of Entanglement’ universities find themselves challenged about their value, role and purpose.

Much of this is due to the digital economy with its many guises characterised by the explosion of the internet, online learning opportunities, the changing nature of work and graduate attributes and evolving desires and expectations of those ‘born digital’. This era will create winners and losers across multiple dimensions – economic, social, cultural and political.

Will universities survive, thrive or fade? Will they become virtual only or will there always be a place for place – the university campus? Is UCL’s Paul Temple correct when he says “Universities […] are possibly the least intensively used space you can imagine.” There are examples of silent buildings and empty corridors; ghost towns as students gather in online classes and academics work remotely with peers in global communities.

I am optimistic that the campus experience won’t emulate a Charles Dickins-esque “Bleak House”. Universities will coexist with an online world of learning because as Former President of the University of Michigan Mary Sue Coleman suggests “Ironically, and thankfully, the glorious abundance of the virtual has created an even greater longing for the real.”

As complex challenges demand people to collaborate and converge, places like university campuses will evolve as geographic incubators of the digital economy with industry partners; returning value to the communities they serve. They will also showcase history through archives, museums and cultural connections. Similar to Renaissance Florence’s Guilds and the London coffee clubs at the turn of the 20th century, universities will continue to provide places that excite curiosity, bring us together to contemplate the pressing issues of our time and create opportunities to turn our thoughts and aspirations into long lasting community benefit.

As Digital Innovation Practice Director at global engineering firm GHD, Jacyl Shaw oversees the creation and delivery of a suite of programs and activities to foster a culture of innovation and leads the engagement strategies for current and prospective partners in community, government and industry. Prior this Jacyl held several senior roles at the University of Melbourne including Director (Engagement) of Carlton (Melbourne) Connect- a capital and cultural transformation project to create an innovation district on a former Hospital site adjacent to the university. She has also been a corporate lawyer, Supreme Court Judges Associate, worked abroad and started a few startups.
Jacyl is well known amongst industry colleagues for her enthusiasm and tenacity as well as her strategic creativity to ‘boundary span’ and create new interdisciplinary, multi sector opportunities and benefits.
She has a BA, LLB and LLM and a Masters (Enterprise); sits on several boards, writes and tells stories to bring innovation to life.

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