Uni­ver­si­ties must adapt to sur­vive in tech age

Tillsonburg News - - OPINION - Ce­line cooper ce­line.cooper@gmail.com

are uni­ver­si­ties ready for the fourth in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion?

the digital revo­lu­tion set into mo­tion decades ago has ac­cel­er­ated with dizzy­ing speed and scale. the fourth in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion — what Klaus Sch­wab of the world eco­nomic Fo­rum de­scribes as the fus­ing of tech­nolo­gies and blur­ring of lines be­tween the phys­i­cal, digital and bi­o­log­i­cal worlds — has shaken well es­tab­lished in­dus­tries with a force that has left heads spin­ning. Jour­nal­ism, mu­sic and en­ter­tain­ment, bricks and mor­tar re­tail and the taxi in­dus­try are just a few ex­am­ples. Some will dis­ap­pear en­tirely. oth­ers will adapt. Could it hap­pen to uni­ver­si­ties too? if the idea of uni­ver­si­ties be­com­ing ob­so­lete — as the knowl­edge econ­omy has taken off — seems im­pos­si­ble, it shouldn’t.

the fact is that knowl­edge has never been more ac­ces­si­ble, or more free, or — wor­ry­ingly — more du­bi­ous in this era of fake news. when it comes to knowl­edge cre­ation, shar­ing and mo­bi­liza­tion, it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult for uni­ver­si­ties to as­sert their tra­di­tional gate­keeper role. there are new sources of com­pe­ti­tion, re­dis­tri­bu­tion and de­cen­tral­iza­tion of power in the new knowl­edge econ­omy.

at the same time, all around the world there is a de­mand for an ed­u­cated work­force. global com­pe­ti­tion is fierce, but many em­ploy­ers are start­ing to ask ques­tions about how well uni­ver­si­ties are pre­par­ing stu­dents for life be­yond academia.

it’s worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to th­ese con­ver­sa­tions.

with ac­cess to six uni­ver­si­ties and 12 pre-uni­ver­sity col­leges, montreal, for ex­am­ple, has the high­est pro­por­tion of post-sec­ondary stu­dents of all ma­jor cities in north amer­ica.

in re­cent years, there has been a mas­sive, co-or­di­nated push on be­half of busi­ness lead­ers, gov­ern­ment, ed­u­ca­tors and oth­ers to at­tract and re­tain in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to our many post­sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions.

montreal’s uni­ver­si­ties also are in a build­ing frenzy. both the univer­sité de mon­tréal and Con­cor­dia uni­ver­sity are build­ing new sci­ence cam­puses.

last week, the prin­ci­pal and vicechan­cel­lor of mcgill uni­ver­sity and the rec­tors of laval and univer­sité de mon­tréal pub­lished an oped piece calling for the gov­ern­ment to rein­vest in uni­ver­sity re­search.

one way would be to ask what kind of re­search is needed, and how to com­mu­ni­cate it so it can have a re­al­world im­pact on pol­icy, in­no­va­tion and de­bate. un­for­tu­nately, the tra­di­tional aca­demic model re­mains stub­bornly slow to change. (one of my favourite ex­am­ples: amass­ing an ex­ten­sive pub­li­ca­tion record in aca­demic jour­nals re­mains a hall­mark of a suc­cess­ful scholar, and a key pre­req­ui­site in ap­ply­ing for a ten­ure track job, even though there is a sig­nif­i­cant body of re­search demon­strat­ing that al­most no one reads re­search pub­lished in aca­demic jour­nals.)

the rise of pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment at Cana­dian uni­ver­si­ties, par­tic­u­larly among peo­ple who are work­ing to­ward or hold doc­tor­ates with lit­tle hope of ever get­ting ten­ure, should also prompt a re­think. it is es­ti­mated that al­most half of Canada’s uni­ver­sity stu­dents are be­ing taught by low-paid ses­sional, ad­junct and con­tract fac­ulty. it’s an ex­ploita­tive model lead­ing many po­ten­tial re­searchers to pur­sue their ca­reers out­side of academia.

there is no re­search to suggest uni­ver­si­ties will be im­mune to the kinds of in­dus­try dis­rup­tion we’re see­ing else­where. as a key driver of the econ­omy and so­ci­ety, let’s make sure our uni­ver­sity ecosys­tem is ready for the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties ahead.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.