It’s more than just knowledge production
Whilst in the Middle Ages, universities were the repositories of knowledge, nowadays, knowledge is universally accessible, particularly scientific and technical knowledge. The problem is no longer the access to information and knowledge but our ability to really understand all that knowledge and make good use of it. Therefore, universities should go far beyond the function of simply providing knowledge, because the current problem is to understand what is genuinely important. For example, science can help us to understand the reasons for the development of diseases and we can even find drugs to fight against them. However, the key problem is getting all patients to have access to that treatment.
Currently, the development of knowledge and technology per se does not mean that people are benefitting from it. The fact that science and technology development is not necessarily correlated positively with human development is, at least, unfair.
Hence, we should wonder whether through scientific and technological development we really can make a real impact to change the world.
Humanity-focused research is more important that new research
As a scientist, I believe that science and technology should always be subject to social considerations regarding the application and the scope of that knowledge. In my opinion, these social considerations about the applications of scientific and technical knowledge are crucial for the future of humanity. That is why universities in the future should be focused on society and the humanities. First, we must ask ourselves what exactly the world needs and then we must seek the knowledge that satisfies those needs. In short, all technological and scientific development must aim to improve humanity.
Generating new knowledge is no longer the problem. The new challenge for universities now is to channel the useful knowledge that humanity needs to advance in a tangible way. Witnessing the scientific knowledge applied to the real economy is very satisfactory, but we all have doubts about the most effective way to contribute to the development of humanity. What do we have to do in the university to involve young people in the search for solutions to the problems of humanity? We need a broad social debate about what are the most pressing problems of humanity and what humanity expects from universities.
Pressing problems still exist, with no indication that they will be solved
I have dedicated 30 years to research in genomics and genetics and we have obtained interesting results, which we have applied in the real economy. However, I feel that this is not enough to improve the world. Science and technology are undeniably tools to improve the world, but we still have a world full of injustices. The long list of pressing problems in the world includes wars, massacres, mafias, extreme poverty, dictatorships, genocides, increasing destruction of the environment, unprotected children and the elderly, forgotten diseases, lack of equal opportunities, just to give a few examples. And yet, there are no clear indications that these problems can be solved in the coming decades.
In which university do we speak about these issues? It seems we have just considered them as part of our normal life. We have to ask ourselves what are the social issues that are never analysed in-depth. For example, treaties on international politics and wars are written but we do not study what we should do to avoid hatred among human beings. As long as there are wars, dictatorships, mafias, corruption, inequality, poverty, etc., the university knowledge as it is currently understood makes no sense.
The university of the future will focus on providing societal solutions
The university of the future will be the one that changes its orientation towards these topics that are not receiving due attention. It is crucial for universities to start seeking effective solutions to the world’s most pressing problems and meet social needs in order to thrive as institutions and become truly relevant to society in the future. In order to do this successfully, the involvement of industry, governments at all level and the society as a whole is of outmost importance. An honest and fluent dialogue among all these stakeholders in a collaborative environment will be essential to face and effectively overcome our global challenges.
Manuel Pérez Alonso obtained his degree in Biology in 1985 and a PhD in Molecular Genetics in 1990. He is Full Professor of Genetics at the University of Valencia (Spain, Europe). He participated in five international genome sequencing consortia and (as Principal Investigator) in a number of basic research projects. He was the promoter and founding partner in nine biomedical companies, most of them located at the University of Valencia Science Park. His research is now focused in the development of genomics tools for genetic testing. He also contributes to biopharmaceutical research through the study of the biological pathways leading to the development of rare genetic disease penotypes. He served for five years as President of the Valencia BioRegion (BIOVAL) and is now President of the Spanish Association of Entrepreneurs in Science.