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Our design of universities is wrong…

UniversitiesIf robotics replaces many of the functions traditionally carried out by humans, there is an urgent need to rethink the design of our universities .

Human hands are no longer required to wash and prepare vegetables for mass packaging; or count out how many paperclips are dropped into a box. Robotics is starting to displace many manual labor functions, particularly those of factory workers. But with robotics advancing exponentially, are we fast reaching a place where they will soon have the potential to substitute not only human hands, but brains as well?

Amy Webb, a digital media futurist, predicts that at least eight career fields are “ripe for disruption” – and they include lawyers, cashiers and journalists. In the same way that robotics disrupted the blue collar worker, the disruption of the ‘white collar worker’ is now on the cards. Already, we’re seeing the commoditisation of doctors, engineers and accountants.

Mayo Clinic has deployed IBM’s Watson to assist in diagnostics, and this tool is ‘beating’ the speed and accuracy of diagnoses by clinicians. Modelling tools are replacing more traditional drafting functions in engineering and architectural companies, as well as quantity surveying functions. Flux has the potential to displace many aspects of ‘design’ activities by engineers and architects. Self-taxation aids are challenging what accountants do.

As a result, it’s highly likely that careers will no longer have the ability to last a lifetime and a large portion of the workforce may be forced to retrain multiple times during their careers.

Tomorrow’s employers will value different skill sets than today’s – and this will fuel the need for upskilling, reskilling and different skills, in order to keep pace with the changing face of the work environment as we know it.

Our universities of the future will be frequented by first-time attendees, but also by second-time attendees, and if longevity increases, perhaps even third-timers…and this will govern how we design education facilities in future.

What needs will an older set of learners have? They won’t want to sit through another four-year degree course. Their intimacy with the latest tech trends won’t be the same as that of school leavers. The way that they learn is and will be different from the so-called ’youngsters’. With families and existing financial commitments, will facilities have to be designed to accommodate more intensive, fast-tracked courses for larger groups? Will they need to pay closer attention to mobility to allow people to get in and out of campuses quickly and back to work? Will companies collocate onto campuses? Will they need to be more digitally savvy as larger audiences sign up for courses more relevant for the future, requiring overflow halls that broadcast lectures live?

If educational facilities want to thrive in future they need to understand how industry will change in a disrupted world and the demands that industry will place on their workforce. They need to be anticipating these changes and having the debate now about the campus design, the course offerings and teaching methods that will meet the needs of the future learners (of all ages) and respond in ways that will be considered indispensable in a changing future.

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9 replies »

    • What is the relevance? Good question, Ralph, an elephant is an age old symbol of many things…many African cultures revere the elephant as a symbol of strength and power. It is also praised for its size, longevity, stamina, mental faculties, cooperative spirit, and loyalty. South Africa uses elephant tusks in its coat of arms to represent wisdom, strength, moderation and eternity. In this context, to me, wisdom is being implied. The piece focuses on older attendees of universities, and cuts to the heart of what educational facilities should offer, hence the depiction of the eye of such a complex animal. This is only how I see it. The nature of the blog asks each reader to ponder this themselves.

    • The days of large, expensive to run and facilities that are far away from people in their workplace, is over. the future will be global universities that are providing the tuition and examinations online. this will serve a much larger audience, cost a lot less and achieve the same outcome, there will be no need to take of work to attend classes or travel long distances to reach the facilities. lecturing staff can perform the work from anywhere in the world and courses can benefit from experts that might normally not be available.

      So, The changes to universities are much more radical than what is normally envisaged and the embedded idea of what a university is need to change dramatically to be able to cater for the future that is facing all humans.

  1. A hot topic being investigated by Aura (one of Brisbane’s FoL teams). The opportunities are endless! It’s worth considering the motivators (purpose over profit?)

    • Hi Kayla,

      Who are/is ‘Aura’? I’m currently doing a literature review on the subject of ‘workforce pedagogy’ taking into consideration that whilst most ‘workforce active/employed’ people may not have formal higher education qualifications, their skills need to be recognised. As it stands, only the VET sector lends it self to recognising such workers and skills.

  2. And you will be able to obtain a degree by putting together subjects/programs from different universities.

    • I like the idea of a self-serve modular education – at least 30% of what I learned at Uni was irrelevant but mandatory to graduate.

  3. Just as much as an athlete has to learn to walk before he can run so must a person learn to master the basic skills before he can wager onto the latest technologies. In our schools and our Universities they are making a huge mistake by teaching the learners to apply complex theories and problem solving techniques without teaching them to understand the basics.
    Give a newly graduate a complex problem to solve from scratch and he will not know how and where to start. They are being taught to put numbers into a computer that spews out an answer and they have no idea whatsoever whether the answer is good or not.
    I would like to see that undergraduates are taught the basics and not even allowed to utilize technology (back to the slide rule) to master the theories. Graduate students can then indulge in the latest technologies but at least they will know what they are doing, hopefully.

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