Who we were

A look back at the university of the future

A keynote to the EDEN Community at the Madrid Annual Conference 2021.

In June 2021 I held a keynote which was directed to the European Distance and E-Learning Community which is my own professional family. I gave the keynote the title: Future Skills for Future Higher Education. The day when we started to rethink learning…

The Recording can be found below!

<<ENGLISH>> The keynote started with a thought experiment to look at the present situation of the university from the future. „If you take a point of time in the future and look back you can see who we were…!“ „Who we were“ is an attempt to look at the present of the university from the future: a kind of reverse prophecy. It is about relentlessly revealing important issues for the development of the university, in that – in a thought experiment – from a time yet to come, in order to be able to recognize, through the temporal distance, the here and now of the university. So who will we have been? So I ask in my keynote. I allude to Roger Willemsen’s famous 2015 speech about the future, delivered shortly before his death.

„We were the ones who knew, but did not understand, full of information but lacking insight, brimming with knowledge, but lacking experience. So we just kept forging ahead, unstopped by ourselves.“ (Roger Willemsen)

A diagnosis points to the fact that we have settled into a pseudo-perfect university, in which apparently „everything already works“. Yet the desire for acceleration drives us into the future. One almost wants to think of Walter Benjamin’s „Angel of History“: that angel, with wings spread and eyes wide open, being driven towards the future by a storm called progress.

The keynote discussed the new emerging star-concept of Future Skills which we have developed.

It is a concept for a world of global and digitally transformed societies and present examples of transformative approaches to higher education. It is a matter of felt truth and perceived reality that higher education institutions all around the world have to find an answer to the burning question: How do we contribute to the future transformation of societies visibly expressed in the transformative change of the systems under which we live: planetary and personal health, economy, democracy, and more. While higher education is traditionally set-up for working with well-elaborated curricula, more and more providing approaches to solving life-challenges will become the focus. The emerging concept of Future Skills is providing answers. It has meanwhile globally contributed to a decisive change of the public discussion about higher education.

The starting point for the enormous career of the Future Skills concept is the insight that current concepts of higher education do not meet the urgent needs of our societies with convincing future concepts. Neither they are fit to help sustain our environment nor associated social or economic challenges. While social challenges are exacerbated by an accelerating process of globalization and digital advancement, at the same time these are the very forces that enable a multitude of new options for human development. In this situation of digital acceleration, the characteristic feature is that of uncertainty and the inevitable necessity is that of creative responsibility. It is a platitude that the future is unpredictable, however we must be prepared to shape it.

In ten to twelve years‘ time, children who attend primary school next year will be entering vocational training or higher education, and in fifteen years‘ time they will be the new professionals who as young citizens take over the responsibility in our society. We know little about this future. In the year 2060-2065 they are likely to retire, end their employment and/ or cease working. About this future we do not know anything. Our schools must prepare them for jobs that do not yet exist, for technologies and applications that have not yet been invented, for living in a society whose social structures we cannot foresee today, and for dealing with challenges that are not yet discernible. It is our shared responsibility to make the most of the opportunities and find ways to deal with this uncertain future. It is about nothing more and nothing less than the preservation of our planet and our livelihoods.

You can get more information about Future Skills at:
www.nextskills.org
www.next-education.org
www.ulf-ehlers.net

Image (Question Mark) by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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