I never really enjoyed studying. The social aspect of it was great, but there were very few courses that I found interesting and meaningful. Sometimes I thought it maybe wasn’t for me. Though ironically enough, it was me who became a representative of the student body, and within a few years started working on higher education issues at a European level.
Nowadays, I have experience from studying in two European countries, and professional experience in knowing a large number of higher education systems in Europe and beyond. I now understand that I shouldn’t have questioned if I am a right fit for the university, but should have rather questioned the system itself, thinking whether it was offering me the level and quality of education one would expect in the early 21st century.
And this is the first problem of the current system – it doesn’t teach us to question things, to seek for more. It rather teaches us unnecessary definitions, archaically calculations which computers have been doing for the last decades. It tests our short-term memory, rather than our brain’s capacity to think.
The current higher education system, which was built on medieval grounds, found itself in the spotlight with the recent financial crisis. Unstable economies and growing unemployment rates put higher education institutions in the center of attention, seeing them as magicians that solve problems. And while the list of possible developments in higher education systems is endless, the focus of development was shifted to skills and mismatch with the labour market. This all holds ground, but for real adoption of higher education institutions to the 21st century reality, one needs to look at a more holistic picture. It is not just feeding students with skills needed to get the jobs; it is rather rethinking the way knowledge is provided, rethinking what knowledge actually is, what has to be learned and what can rather be Googled, the way technology is used in the studying process, the way professors are supported in their lifelong learning and personal development, the way in which industry engages with education, etc.
The other side effect of the shift of paradigm towards skills based agendas is the lost vision of higher education as a personal development path of students, a process which teaches them life lessons, a space that generates thoughts, promotes innovation and development of societies. I heard so many discussions in the past years if higher education serves as a life school for students which at the same time promotes societal development, or as a tool to get the job. And if we chose one or the other, who is responsible for funding these studies? Even though, perhaps these sentences might sound like a cliché, they are very popular paradigm when it comes to higher education development. But where will that lead us in the future? And what do I see as a university in 2040?
Response of the University 2040
Let’s start with who teaches. Back during my university days, it was common for professors to use the same PowerPoint slides for 7 to 8 years. In 2040, professors have strongly embedded lifelong learning in their career paths. They are continuously working on personal development, seeking best ways to train their students necessary skills that will allow them to use technology and information in their learning process. Professors are also very much up to date with the recent trends in their industry as much as their courses require. In order to assure that, universities have a large number of guest professors, where courses and specific classes are given by experts in the field, who work on these matters on a daily basis. This includes both industry and business representatives, policy makers, etc. What do professors teach? They act as trainers, showing students how to find resources, how to get informed, how to use their brains to the full potential. There is no need to ask a student to learn definitions by heart; everyone can find those on their phones in a few seconds. Why not rather train students how to access the data needed, how to look for credible sources, how to recognise fake news? Students should be pushed to think, to discuss, to evaluate, to create their own opinions and discuss those with their peers. Why do we still learn how to calculate on a piece of paper, how to do the accounting with the methods from 1960s, if we could train them to use the latest software for that.
And finally, how do professors work with students? The square classrooms with aligned chairs facing professors is not the place where every individual will be supported to reach its maximum potential. Looking at old PowerPoints, printing them out and learning the slides to get a satisfactory grade turns us into robots, rather than powerful individuals. We have to stop ignoring technology and use it as a benefit for better facilitation of learning. We are still afraid of using so called modern devices, people speak of Facebook mostly in negative terms. Why not to use Facebook live to make classes more accessible and attractive for younger generations? By 2040, Facebook will probably no longer be such a widespread phenomenon, but the world will change drastically. If today we are scared of Facebook, how will we adapt to the speedy development of society and technologies?
I read recently that more and more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD, having problems focusing in school. Have you ever seen a 3-year-old child playing with a tablet on the seat next to you during the flight? And now imagine how that kid will feel in 5 years’ time when he or she joins the primary school and the teacher uses a chalk and a board to explain the alphabet.
These lines above are definitely not revolutionary, but the change will come only if it’s done systemically, and if all the actors get on board.
Marko Grdošic started his student activism in Zagreb, Croatia, joining AEGEE-Europe / European Students Forum. Later on, he moved to Brussels as the president of AEGEE-Europe commission to represent the voice of students at the main European and international institutions. His experience is based on development of policies and lobbying for student rights, particularly in the field of active citizenship, youth participation, human rights and education with a focus on non-formal learning. In 2014, Marko joined Council of Europe’s Advisory Council on Youth, where he worked on issues relating to formal education. In his second term he was elected chairperson of the Committee. Currently, Marko is a Project Manager at EURASHE coordinating running projects as well as developing future ones. He is responsible for coordination of annual strategy. He is following the thematic agenda of Lifelong Learning and Employability, with a special attention to cooperation between higher education and the world of work. Marko obtained the bachelor degree in Finances and Audit from the University of Zagreb, after which he moved to Stockholm, Sweden for the Masters’ in Macroeconomics, Economic development in particular.