In a Race between Education and Catastrophe the 4th Generation University is Winning

In a Race between Education and Catastrophe the 4th Generation University is Winning

If civilisation is ‘a race between education and catastrophe [1]’, then in the late 2020s, catastrophe was winning. Now, in the year 2040, reflecting back it would seem obvious that major companies like Google, LinkedIn and and high-profile entrepreneurs like Elon Musk would challenge the monopoly position of universities (at a much lower cost!). However, after the rationalisation of universities (and academics) during the late 2020s, universities survived by making themselves invaluable to the planet, their region or their city by embracing a number of roles and by driving certain changes to their modus operandi.

Following the technology obsession of the 2020s which drastically reduced contact between people, humanity returned in the 2030s and universities have taken a leading role. Education and research still underpin the purpose of today’s 4thgeneration university (University 4.0) but are increasingly undertaken in communities of connected stakeholders and blurred in a more rapid circular knowledge creation process, where boundaries between knowledge creation, diffusion and adoption are fluid.

Whilst the role of education has existed as long as universities themselves (‘Talent Engine’ role), 4thgeneration universities focus more on developing and validating their students’ competences. For this, they have partnered not only with other universities but also with large consultancies such as McKinsey and Accenture, and specialist service and technology providers, such as Oracle and SpaceX.

Constructing their own degree and foci, students are now in the driver’s seat of their learning process and get to choose the projects and supporting activities they will do. With no exams, lectures, lecturers or timetables, they work in teams on supported by academic and business mentors, as well as their own AI robot. Freed from rote-learning by AI systems, which allows them to focus more on higher-order creative and analytical skill development, the search term ‘university is ruining my life’[2]is no longer the most frequent comment students speak to Siri (who just celebrated her 35thyear of existence).

A cohort of students is now in their 2ndyear of a ‘1st level Mastery of Technology and the Environment’ (like today’s bachelor). To complete their project, they had to form cross-disciplinary teams, undertake own research, integrate the university’s research, develop contacts, engage regional stakeholders as well as acquire supply chain partners and lead customers. They are both competing and cooperating (‘coopetition’) with international university and co-creation community teams on the same project.

However, now their final step will be to pitch theirEcoFLYmoprototype (Environmentally-Friendly Flying Mobility – a mix between a drone and smart-car, which runs on used coffee grounds) to business partners, investors, and entrepreneurs. With IP frameworks negotiated at the start of the project, there is a pricing structure already in place for the business partner to buy the prototype, however if not, they inherit the IP to develop it themselves or sell to entrepreneurs from Living Lab.

Their 2-year Mastery Project is performed in an open learning environment and participants are informed by MOOCs and a series of other activities such as seminars and updates from academics and businesspeople, training sessions, group-learning exchange sessions (using VR teleconferences with other international teams), self-reflection retreats, site visits, participation in competitions, own internships or employment (some complete the project as part of their work) as well the cultural competence skills validated as part of their own global backpacking. Their project progress and outcomes are assessed together with their soft and network skills, emotional intelligence and self-dependency competence development every six-months through 360-degree assessments.

Most of the time, the student team is working within the Living Labpremises on campus and cooperate with experienced researchers from the Institute for Eco Aerospace Mobility. In their project work, they are mentored by academics, entrepreneurs from the Living Lab and by working professionals undertaking Higher-Level Masteries’ like Industrial PhDs, DEs (for entrepreneurship doctorates combining research and commercialisation) or Discover, Accelerate and Regeneratemicro-courses to add or scale their skills, or regenerate their career (‘Life partner’ role).

The Living Lab itself is a public-private partnership set up on campus in the late 2010s responsible for supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. However increasingly, as project-centred teamwork has replaced the traditional lecture format and working modes changed, it became a co-working hub and the centre of university (and city) life.

With all degrees now using this format of learning, the lab has expanded dramatically to dominate the campus in its role of providing a ‘home base’ for project teams (‘Home-base’ role), as well as the co-working space for an explosion of freelancers, micro-companies, start-ups and academics. It is open 24 hours a day with full-body scanning secure entry after a spate of eye stealing put an end to eye scanning technology. For use by those at the university, local business and community partners, Living Lab has a professional event centre, flexible meeting rooms with VR teleconferencing facilities, a maker-space, 3D printer, access to scientific equipment, exhibition rooms and an accelerator as supporting infrastructure and equipment.

Following the shift in the 2020s away from isolated ‘ivory-tower’ research process to a co-created research agenda, challenge-focussed institutes became the dominant research player. Sharing common lab space with the other institutes, the Institute for Eco-Aerospace Mobility is one of many interdisciplinary co-creation research centres on campus, drawing academics out of their faculties to work together with a network of companies, students, government agencies and other stakeholders. They provide access to advanced testing equipment and other resources vital to leading-edge research as well as having access to Living Lab services (‘Discovery’ role).

The Living Labhas continued its leading role in developing entrepreneurship and provides entrepreneurship programmes for students, researchers and local business as well as being an important part of the innovation pipeline of large companies and solutions for the community by supporting university technologies, promising student start-up, university spin-outs and supporting regional scale-ups (‘The Launch-Pad’ role).

With a number of large companies specialised in environmentally friendly mobility and dynamic local SMEs from their supply-chain in close proximity, as well as access to networks of venture capitalists, the university and the Living Labare at the centre of a highly supporting innovation ecosystem, which is driving its region’s growth and direction.

The lab is also home to the Smart and Human EcoCityinitiative, a regional smart specialisation initiative which brings together local business, government, society and members of the university (‘home base’ role). With more permeable career paths to enable more fluid relations between university and industry, it can be hard to know who represents who anymore! In this way, universities have become a central point, not only to the creation and provision of knowledge, but for the facilitation, coordination and management of knowledge, innovation and local /regional problem-solving networks.

In civilisation’s race, education seems to be winning again.


[1]Source: H. G. Wells

[2]For a perspective of the current thoughts of students with respect to today’s universities, we invite the reader to type into your predictive text search engine ‘university is’ and see what appears… it is a little scary!


Dr. Todd Davey is an Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Institut Mines-Télécom Business School in Paris and a visiting researcher at Imperial College (UK) and Adelaide University (AUST) in the topics of entrepreneurship and innovation. Formerly a Senior Manager with Deloitte Australia’s Technology Commercialisation Group and responsible part of the executive team for one of Australia’s fastest growing start-ups in the 2000s, Todd has ‘switched sides’ to work within academia. He was the Project Director of the largest study yet completed into cooperation between European universities and business, a study completed for the European Commission in 2010 and again in 2017. Todd is author of the book ‘Entrepreneurship at Universities’, a Director at the University-Industry Innovation Network (UIIN) and the creator of TechAdvance™, a tool for evaluating technologies.

Arno Meerman is the co-founder and CEO of the University Industry Innovation Network, where he has initiated and leads the largest conference on University-Industry Interaction, started the world’s first professional education program for university-industry relationship staff and leads a number of UIIN’s research and development projects for the European Commission. Arno is also the Director for Business Development at the Science-to-Business Marketing Research Centre. Besides project acquisition and strategic development at both organisations, Arno has consulted universities and government and published on entrepreneurship, innovation and university-business collaboration. Most recently he has managed the largest project on university-business cooperation in Europe yet undertaken.

Dr. Max Riedel is a senior consultant at Siemens University Relations with a PhD degree in physics (2011). He consults to Siemens businesses in all aspects of university cooperation, ranging from developing a partnering strategy, finding suitable research partners to fostering longterm strategic cooperation. He joined Siemens in 2012 as a management consultant at Siemens Management Consulting (SMC), the internal consultancy of Siemens. At the time this book is published, Max is delegated to the University of Ulm to support the ramp-up of the Quantum Technologies Flagship initiative, one of the European Commission’s most ambitious long-term projects to bring technology from the lab to the market. Before this assignment, he was the key account manager for two of Siemens’ strategic partner universities.

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