Universities were born internationally oriented. At the time of their foundation in the 11th century, scholars taught in Latin at different places, from Bologna to Paris, and shared their ideas despite the then existing tough barriers to mobility. Eight centuries later, Oxford’s renowned fellow John Henry Newman defined universities as “an assemblage of strangers from all parts in one spot” and added that “a university is a place of concourse, where students come from every quarter for every kind of knowledge”. Certainly, a key feature of universities is a universal vocation, their mission focused on developing cosmopolitan, globally committed citizens.
Recent globalization has produced, though, two conflicting effects. On the one hand, a homogenization of ideas, practices and tastes, coupled with the spread of progress and ideas defending human rights. For example, young people socialize through social networks and share the ideals of sustainability, regardless of the culture to which they belong. Paradoxically, the other side of globalization has been an increased emphasis on identity, which is magnified by some politicians to differentiate one group of individuals from another. Taken to its extreme, this can encourage mindsets that threaten coexistence: phobias toward other groups of people, usually minorities.
Recent years have seen a resurgence of populism and nationalism that uses hate speech to drive phobia toward outsiders. Other phobias seemingly on the rise are directed at women, other races, religions, sexual preferences and the poor.
Current exceptional circumstances demand from education stakeholders to assume a leadership role, speak out and stand in support of a more just, equal, prosperous and sustainable world. This also includes the international mobility of students, faculty, talent and ideas, which is essential to the university’s mission.
There is another major lesson from the current pandemics. Contrary to the prophecies of those predicting that robots would take over humans, lockdowns across the world have enhanced the role of technologies in bringing us together closer and provide powerful platforms for group working, virtual meetings and also delivering effective education programs.
Indeed, the post COVID-19 world enhances adaptation and change. Professionals will live blended lives and the work environment will become increasing hybrid and liquid too. Professionals will work in teams both in presence and on social platforms, from home or at their company offices, in a continuum that blurs distance, time and that increases productivity. They will increasingly deal virtually with colleagues from different hemispheres and time zones, making friends who belong to diverse cultures and possess different visions of the world.
Hybrid formats, and what we call at IE University “Liquid Learning”, are here to stay. Not just because social distancing and cross-border mobility pose problems for attending face-to-face classes on a regular basis, but rather because they provide better results than traditional presential learning.
“Indeed, education should become liquid, combining face-to-face classes with online sessions, synchronous with asynchronous interaction, exploiting the full potential for the personalization of education.”
This liquidity will also be reflected on the creation and distribution of knowledge, teaching methodologies, and other universities activities, including extracurricular experiences, which may become partly virtual.
The main engine for the transition to a liquid learning world has to be, naturally, the faculty and staff at universities. The key to success in any educational format is not the technology, nor the contents. These are necessary components of online learning, but they quickly become commodities. Platforms may be the princess, contents the queen, but the experience provided by the faculty in class, be it in presence or in remote, is the empress.
Santiago Iñiguez is the President of IE University and a recognized influencer in global higher education. He has been the first recipient (2019) of the Founders Award by Thinkers50, the prestigious global ranking of thoughtful leaders in Management. He is the author of “The Learning Curve: How Business Schools Are Reinventing Education”, “Cosmopolitan Managers: Executive Education That Works”, and “In An Ideal Business: How the Ideas of 10 Female Philosophers bring value to the Workplace”.