What is the (i) role of university education, (ii) form of university education in terms of structure, process, and content, and (iii) integration of the university into an evolving society?
The role of the university over the years has been studied extensively – whether as a provider of the ‘knowledge craftsmen’ to society, or as a center for new knowledge creation, or as a vehicle for cultural and social evolution in society.
Be it as it may, the university has all along been seen as a distinct institutional form that performs the ‘knowledge’ function in society as much as the modern corporation performs the ‘wealth and product creation’ function of society.
What if the university is no longer seen as an entity ‘away’ from life and is instead seen as ‘deeply embedded’ into the architecture and flow of social, cultural, and productive life of society?
What if we envisage a new role for the university as a research design lab embedded right in the heart of community and economic life,
- providing a new ‘response capability’, a new ‘self-awareness capability’, and collective engagement capability to society,
- and at the same time performing the ‘universalization’ function –deriving insights from its deep engagements with context, and universalizing them,
so that society can evolve more fluidly instead of lurching from one crisis to another.
We envisage, therefore, a university in a radically different form – deeply rooted and contexted in communities enabling them to face challenges, engage with new realities, create a new breed of ‘knowledge craftsmen’, and yet capable of economies of scale and scope – straddling geographies, domains and disciplines, and integrating the best thinking and research around a challenge.
But this will not be enough; the output of the university of the future may not be limited to knowledge. Rather its primary output will need to be human beings who are capable of facing challenges dynamically, capable of real-time innovation and response, capable of self-awareness and growth; capable, in short, of far greater dynamism and resilience, integrity and change, reflection and action, than what we are producing today – individuals who can envision and actualize a new society, instead of ‘conforming to and confirming’ an existing world.
This means new curricula, new pedagogies, new teaching paradigms; this means new relationships between local community, university, and institutional structures in government and business. This also means rethinking the notion of an academic, as a new kind of ‘evolutionary catalyst’ in society.
This university of the future is not located in the future but needs to reorient society from past to future.
This reorientation of society is not ‘out there’ in the realm of technology, innovation, and ideas; but is ‘right here’ in the realm of community life; transforming ideals, and building society’s immune system so that it is able to not just cope with a new world but transcend it in fresh new ways.