12 December 2023

What Future for Universities?

Globalisation is forcing universities to navigate an increasingly complex higher education landscape. Will they become yet another for-profit business or will they manage to remain spaces where one can think freely and critically? Faculty members and researchers of the Graduate Institute and guest authors shed light on these questions in the latest issue of Global Challenges, produced by the Research Office in collaboration with NORRAG.

Neoliberal globalisation has not only transformed the role of the state; it has also shaken up the internal “DNA” of education policies, from schools to universities. New technologies have paved the way for new forms of transmitting knowledge; calls to decolonise curricula are growing louder; in the South, many countries face the challenge of financing public education policies in an era of new public management. 

What should be the purpose of universities in the midst of these changes? Who should they serve? To explore these questions, the Institute’s Research Office called on NORRAG’s expertise to produce a dossier on The Future of Universities, published in the Global Challenges series. The dossier includes 10 articles, all accompanied by infographics and multimedia, notably a video interview in which Marie-Laure Salles shares with Grégoire Mallard some of her ideas on universities, their challenges and future opportunities:

Articles include:

Universities in the 21st Century: A Changing Global Landscape
Universities have changed in response to globalisation in the last decades and navigate an increasingly complex higher education landscape. Grégoire Mallard, Dominic Eggel and Marc Galvin ask whether they will manage to redefine their broad missions and remain spaces where one can think freely and critically.

Futures of Higher Education and the Recovery of Purpose
In recent years, the discourse on higher education has increasingly been dominated by an emphasis on the economic value provided by universities. Arguing that a university’s purpose goes far beyond its immediate role of preparing students for the job market, Noah W. Sobe explores the potentially harmful consequences for both universities and students of a neoliberal discourse focussed on value.

Reimagining Education in the Knowledge Society
The defining characteristic of the knowledge society in which we live is an abundance of readily available information on every topic imaginable. It is by providing the capacity to transform this information into knowledge, writes Chanwoong Baek, that higher education reveals its unique purpose: through learning to analyse information, individuals can use it for ends that are beneficial both to themselves and to society.

Education Policies: Foundational Research beyond Agenda Setting
Public policy research – including research on education policy – typically focusses on policy-making in the Global North, producing results that are not necessarily applicable elsewhere. Against this background, Gita Steiner-Khamsi re-examines education policy from a global perspective, surveying key questions for policy transfer and highlighting issues of particular relevance to the Global South.

AI in Education and Research: Towards a More Ethical Engagement
As in many other spheres of human activity, AI is likely to have a highly disruptive effect on higher education, significantly affecting current methods of teaching and research. In this context, write Moira Faul and Anna Numa Hopkins, it is essential to promote an ethical engagement with AI technologies, insisting on transparency and ensuring appropriate governance frameworks.

Data Assets and the Future Governance of Higher Education
Across many aspects of higher education, the activities of both students and instructors are now frequently mediated via digital technology. As a result, Janja Komljenovic and Kean Birch suggest, issues around data ownership have taken on increasing importance for the sector as a whole. Ultimately, it is only by monitoring how our data is used that we can counter its growing monetisation.

Higher Education, Decolonisation and the Global South
Higher education institutions across the global South face a number of particular challenges, from dealing with the effects of political instability to issues around financing and quality assurance. To address these challenges, proposes Alexandre Dormeier Freire, higher education itself may be need to be reimagined, including in particular a revaluation of what is widely perceived as a Western approach to knowledge.

University and Migration: New Directions for African Students
Students from sub-Saharan Africa have long travelled to Europe, especially to France, for their university studies; they are now also turning to the US and China in increasing numbers. Examining this trend from both an economic and a socio-political perspective, Simeon Lauterbach reveals its implications for the students themselves as well as for their home countries.

The Conundrum of Race and Affirmative Action in Higher Education
Since the mid-1960s, affirmative action has been used by universities in various countries as a tool to reduce racial discrimination and to ensure a more representative admissions policy. Surveying affirmative action in higher education in France and Brazil, Camille Giraut examines its implementation in these differing political contexts, alongside its broader social ramifications.

The Sino-American Competition in Higher Education
China and the US have contrasting approaches to higher education policy across multiple dimensions, reflecting differing political ideologies and approaches to public spending. Analysing the similarities and differences between the two approaches, Jin Sun suggests that the higher education sector can also be understood as an arena for competition between the two countries, as much in socio-economic as in ideological terms.

Global Challenges is a series of dossiers designed to share with a broader, non-specialist audience the ideas, knowledge, opinions and debates produced at the Geneva Graduate Institute. Find all issues here.

Banner image: © Chappatte in Le Temps, Geneva.