As part of our University of the Future series, we spoke to leading institutions from across Europe to understand their vision for the future, and how they plan to realise these ambitions.
In this selection of interviews, we hear from our contributors about what’s on the horizon for higher education.
These are extended interviews that were conducted as part of the research for our University of the Future whitepaper. Read more from the University of the Future page series or download the whitepaper – What’s driving the vision for the University of the Future? – to explore how universities can embrace the opportunity to reimagine the university of the future.
Felix Kuijpers, Programme Manager Education Innovation with ICT, Avans University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands)
Avans University of Applied Sciences was formed in 2004 as the result of a merger between Hogeschool Brabant and Hogeschool ’s-Hertogenbosch.
Its departments comprise the 21 Avans schools, offering programmes in Economics and Business, Engineering, Society and Behaviour, Health Care, Science and Technology, Arts and Culture, Law and Governance, Education, Earth and Environment and Language and Communications.
How has Avans University reacted and adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic?
We immediately set up a crisis team and deployed our team of 30 ICT in Education coaches to support our teachers in the transition to distance learning. We also created a team to work with staff on devising and managing remote assessments.
This whole situation will certainly speed up the move towards digital learning, but this was already a big work in progress here at Avans. More broadly speaking, universities have very quickly had to accelerate their knowledge and understanding of remote teaching. This would have been impossible without technology, and thankfully we were already a good way along the path in terms of our technology roadmap.
What’s your vision for the University of the future?
For me, it’s all about personalised education and preparing students for the world of work. But we really have to differentiate the student experience in order to make this possible. It’s not enough to just digitise what they’re doing now. We have to change the way we think about learning completely.
Currently, universities tend to work in faculties – social, technical, arts etc, and subjects are very divided. But in the world around us, everything is merging. Even in the medical field, you’re seeing a proliferation of technology, and students will need the right skills to be able to work with that tech. Shouldn’t we be bringing these disciplines together, to reflect the world we live in?
From a commercial perspective, universities will have to differentiate themselves to remain attractive to applicants. In the future students could potentially select different universities for different modules. The power and the choice certainly lie with the learner, and universities have to be mindful of this and continually find ways to appeal.
Universities also need to be more agile in how they operate. The university of the future should be constantly evolving to take into consideration what’s happening in society. This has to happen if universities are to remain relevant, and if going to university continues to be the right choice for young people.
How can the university of the future make students more work-ready?
The evolution of the university is being driven as much by employers as it is by students. It’s also been fuelled by the start-up economy and by entrepreneurs. Approximately two million people in the Netherlands are self-employed and there are many more flexible and micro workers here. We need to make sure we are equipping them with the skills they need.
That’s why we need to integrate skills better – the academic alongside other disciplines such as marketing and financial management. We also need to look at things like teamwork, leadership and creativity, for example. We don’t usually think of these attributes in the context of a classroom environment but they’re essential 21st-century skills. We have to close the gap between universities and the commercial world by enabling students to access this kind of learning before they enter the workplace.
We also need to help our students navigate their way through their education and make the best choices while they’re there and when they leave.
What needs to happen to realise this vision?
Firstly, staff need to be on board for this journey as much as students. We can put technology in place to free up staff so they can spend more time focusing on students and helping to develop that personalised learner journey. Currently approx. 75% of teacher time is spent on admin and other work where there is no contact with students, for example, but by digitising some back-end processes we know we can get this closer to 50%.
But the biggest challenge is helping people understand what you’re trying to achieve and why. It’s a big change management exercise for universities and their staff. Essentially, the transfer of knowledge is where teachers perceive their value to lie, but we’re asking them to put the focus on understanding the needs of each of their students first. This is a big cultural shift that is happening right now and will be the real key to realising that vision for the future.
Felix Kuijpers began his career at the Royal Military Academy in the Netherlands. He worked as a technical officer for 15 years in the Air Force at several airbases and at its headquarters. He continued his career as a Business Unit Manager at Capgemini in the ICT and high-tech-sector. He joined Avans University as a lecturer in industrial engineering in 2015 and since 2018 has been the University’s Programme Manager Education Innovation with ICT. Felix has degrees in Aeronautical Engineering, ICT and Industrial Engineering.