Next Generation University
It Is Time for a Revolution in Universities© RWTH Aachen
The “Next Generation University” initiative comes at a time when it seems almost essential for survival that we accomplish a turnaround now, at this end of an era, as the German Chancellor recently proclaimed it. The current global ecological, social, economic, and, most recently, geopolitical developments certainly demand the most extraordinary efforts from our knowledge society.
The science and innovation system - above all the universities - has a special responsibility, but it is also presented with a great opportunity. The necessary turnaround will only succeed if the players in this system are self-critical, capable of change, and focus all their actions on solving global problems. Given the structures and attitudes developed at universities over decades, this means nothing less than a small revolution in our system. And this revolution is precisely what the “Next Generation University” initiative wants to drive from within its ranks.
Tackling Global Challenges Together – With Innovative Power and Networking
How do we tackle climate change and deal with the global scarcity of resources? How do we shape the transformation of transportation? How do we manage the shift away from fossil fuels to renewable raw materials? How do we achieve the Green Deal to make Europe a climate-neutral continent by 2050? And how do we succeed in ensuring that these measures simultaneously generate a redefined, livable space for all?
How do we deal with a largely unforeseen crisis like the coronavirus pandemic or a flood? How do we acquire, on the one hand, the capacity for foresight, but on the other hand, a certain routine in inter-sectoral, international collaboration when the unforeseen occurs, and rapid action is needed?
Irrespective of acute crises that need to be mastered, the EU Commission has set a clear target with the Lisbon process and the subsequent Europe 2020 strategy: Europe is to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economic area in the world. On the one hand, this requires a collective financial effort. However, investing three percent of the gross domestic product alone will not create enough momentum in structures that have become sluggish over decades. Only a sensible orchestration of the existing potential, ideas, and innovation drivers can generate rapid, radical progress in a positive sense. And how this orchestration can work – that is what the brightest minds need to discuss.
Universities Must Build Competencies to Benefit Society in the Future
Universities have what it takes to help shape the future of our rapidly evolving world:
- They research the foundations for key technologies and thus provide the basis for a strong economy that is internationally competitive and for an innovative society that is fit for the future.
- They provide the future workforce not only with the skills but also with the attitude that they can and must shape the world of tomorrow in the face of a multitude of global challenges.
- They set the tone for half of a birth cohort (in 2021, the proportion of first-year students in a birth cohort in Germany was 54 percent, comprising a total of 2.89 million students), and they are also key players in the continuing education of skilled workers.
- By communicating science to the public, they help citizens understand the transformation and encourage them be an active part of it in their daily lives.
But in order for the age-old institution “university” to actually tackle pressing global challenges, it must actively position itself as a player in society. Here and now, “fast fish” are needed: universities that think strategically and act quickly, that have a contemporary understanding of their role in the knowledge society, and that are closely linked to other research institutions, business, civil society, and politics. We need universities that are self-critical and willing to change, seek discourse with all non-university groups, and want to take new big steps along with like-minded people.
The “Next Generation University” initiative creates the space for radical rethinking, testing innovative approaches in the field, and intensive discourse on the insights thus gained.