The Challenges of Higher Education in the 21st Century
Our imperfect world is advancing relentlessly towards uncertain future scenarios, and we must try to redirect it towards sustainability, that is, towards a new way of doing things in order to improve our environment while at the same time achieving justice, social equality and economic stability. However change is impossible without learning, just as learning is impossible without change. In the text that follows, I will analyze the need for a new form of education in today’s society and identify the specific challenges that higher education faces.
Changes in universities as institutions and at the level of internal organisation. These changes should aim to improve the management of resources (human, economic, etc.) and be restructured to improve internal democracy. Universities must continue their mission to educate, train and carry out research through an approach characterised by ethics, autonomy, responsibility and anticipation.
Changes in knowledge creation. Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches should be taken and non-scientific forms of knowledge should be explored.
Changes in the educational model. New teaching/learning approaches that enable the development of critical and creative thinking should be integrated. The competencies common to all higher-education graduates should be determined and the corresponding expectations should be defined. In a knowledge society, higher education should transform us from disoriented projectiles into guided missiles: rockets capable of changing direction in flight, adapting to variable circumstances, and constantly course-correcting. The idea is to teach people to learn quickly as they go along, with the capacity to change their mind and even renounce previous decisions if necessary, without over-thinking or having regrets. Teaching and learning must be more active, connected to real life, and designed with students and their unique qualities in mind.
Changes aimed at tapping the potential of information and communication technologies in the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The goal of such changes is to create what Prensky (2009) calls digital wisdom.
Changes for social responsibility and knowledge transfer. The work of higher-education institutions must be relevant. What they do, and what is expected of them, must be seen as a service to society; their research must anticipate social needs; and the products of their research must be shared effectively with society through appropriate knowledge-transfer mechanisms.
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About the author
Jesús Granados earned a bachelor's degree in Geography and a master's degree in Social Sciences Education from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) as well as a master's degree in Environmental Education and Communication (ISEMA). He received his Ph.D. in Education from UAB.
After working at Universidad de la Rioja he accepted a position at the UAB in 2004 to teach and conduct research at the Faculty of Education, where he implemented several courses, among them the subject of Education for Sustainability which was open to all students at the UAB. Since May 2011 Jesús has been working at GUNI as studies, research and content coordinator.