Para Limes

The Future of Universities

The Future of Universities

6 December 2020

Photo: Sidharth Bhatia / Unsplash
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many universities conducting their classes online. This shift has sparked a debate on whether students should pay full tuition fees and, more broadly, the changes universities should implement in response to the pandemic.

But there is a more pressing debate to be had: the need for universities to embrace interdisciplinary explorations in order to tackle the problems that we face, which are often complex and filled with uncertainty.

In a recent essay, our executive director, Jan W. Vasbinder, argues that the uncertainty that is brought by the pandemic has punctured a long-held assumption that we are generally in control, and the research done by our universities would eventually solve whatever problems may arise.

On the contrary, the increasing specialisation of university departments into disciplinary silos and the consequent funding model meant that problems are often defined within discrete disciplinary boundaries. This results in universities being ill-equipped to tackle these problems as they are not so neatly defined in actual context. Such a trajectory, as Vasbinder puts it, is a “reduced reality” and this illusion has “come to haunt us”.

He then goes on to elaborate the disconnect between the universities and real-world problems from the perspective of evolution, exploration, and exploitation. This is to trace back why universities went on the trajectory it did with a warning that if it does not evolve and adapt, universities—like many other things in evolution—will soon be extinct.

Vasbinder also provides sketch of the qualities a future leader should have and that universities should strive to inculcate these values in their students. Taking the Santa Fe Institute as an example, he explains how universities should collaborate with such smaller institutions in order to stimulate students to think and explore across boundaries.

Read the full essay here.