Let’s cast our minds forward to 2040. Our university, called University of the Future after the COVID-19 episode in 2020, is now regarded as a highly disruptive campus that sets global standards when it comes to research, education, innovation and commitment to its region. It has definitively become a national asset for our country and a key player in Europe by contributing to keep the EU Green Deal roadmap on course despite the historical global crisis that occurred in 2029. One century after the 1929 great crash, the world had indeed faced deep recessions triggered by several pandemics forcing universities to operate in a drastically different environment.
While the COVID-19 pandemic put the spotlight on antiquated aspects of higher education including economical models and lack of flexibility, the moment passed, and this first warning did not necessarily induce necessary changes in all universities. Many of them had struggled to maintain their position as ‘champions’, engaging in a never ending ‘wannabe’ rat race for university rankings, while others had chosen to step back and remain comprehensive regional or vocational institutions.
Our university did neither. It preferred to position itself as a disruptor, and to engage a complex process of transformation and transition towards being an experimental campus, continuously testing solutions for a new socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable paradigm.
Back at the beginning of the 2020s, in a society that had become almost entirely dependent on data, the highly competitive educational sector was coming under increasingly intense scrutiny, not only by new business actors such as firms providing data-driven insights and free-access online educational content, but also more broadly by the general climate of defiance towards knowledge and expertise spread by the social and mass media.
In facing this challenging new higher education market, from 2020 to 2040, our university set up and implemented an ambitious strategy whose aim was twofold: (1) to continue to reposition and optimize its core business as a research-based world class university, while (2) investing in disruption for the years ahead, building a new “student-centered”, transnational, open, responsible and inclusive educational model. Our strategy for 2040 led us to embark on the dual quest of optimizing and growing and featured a number of changes: from being faculty-focused to learner-centered, to collaborate closely with its external and internal partners in order to co-create solutions for our collective future, to rethink the physical campus for the digital world, to experiment constantly in order to design solutions the world needs to be able to deal with the massive challenges it faces.
Now in 2040, our university has become the place where enlightened, unbiased and efficient experimental approaches can be set up and tested. Being a public research-driven university, experimentation was and still is at the very heart of our vision, mission and activities. For two decades, our internal culture of engagement has boosted, developed and scaled up together with our main partners and stakeholders, to help shaping a better future and promoting a sharing sustainable society.
Helen, born in early 2021, is studying hyper complex systems and complexity of network-centric organizations at the university of the future. She says that the most important thing she was taught in this degree was to predict the unpredictable. Tuesday afternoon, she was attending an immersive class with her uncle in the “next generation railway” living lab. Graduated in 2018 as an aeronautic engineer, she is back at the university for reskilling. She chose a very popular program called “new needs for society”.
“The missions of the university of the future will not strongly differ but creation and transmission of knowledge – including what we don’t know – will be essential for such a complex and vulnerable world.”
Manuel Tunon de Lara is President of the Université de Bordeaux since January 2014. He previously served as President of Bordeaux Segalen University where he championed the values of a large, multidisciplinary, internationally-recognized university and led his establishment towards a merger with two other universities in the city thus creating the University of Bordeaux with his counterparts. Manuel Tunon de Lara is professor of Respiratory medicine with research interest in asthma and allergy.