Performances in a competitive economy (7th edition)
Noutăţi – 24-25 September 2020
Performances in a competitive economy (7th edition)
Building partnership between Universities and the Labour Market For Future sklls
TOPICS :2) Interdisciplinary
The University of knowledge between the digital revolution and the third mission
Associate Professor, Director of the Research Center Digital Technologies, Education & Society, Link Campus University; AIDR member and Head of the Digital Education Observatory
This presentation wishes to focus on the role required by the university of knowledge in the 21st century downstream of the drama of the global pandemic which forced the university to reinvent itself in only a few weeks. From all over the globe, the entire educational system was called upon to give unprecedented responses to the need of training, socialisation, relationships and innovation.
The background scenario that feeds the considerations aired here, is that of the” university of knowledge” which, today, more than ever, requires that Academiac on tribute as an actor in territorial development so as to foster a renewed type of cultural framework.
1. The university from a local to a global perspective
The difficulties encountered during this period have highlighted, if such a thrust was actually needed, that the management and enhancement of information and knowledge become strategic factors to the development, protection and competitiveness of organisations, territories and communities.
In the social drama the whole world has experienced, it emerged, without doubt, that the social mandate assigned to the university, based on the tradition of teaching and research conceived as ‘watertight’ areas is in crisis. This attitude has led many governments to consider the university as a residue unable to respond to the complexity and challenges of our days when they draw up their development policies. For some time now, under pressure from the socio-economic and regulatory-institutional changes of the last thirty years, universities have undergone a significant internal change that has contributed profoundly to undermining the traditional teaching-pedagogical structure created to serve the needs of a small elite who were expected to guide the destinies of the country.
The assertion of a mass university; the proliferation of degree courses; the competition; the progressive reduction of resources allocated to research; the development of scientific and technological research and, lastly, the Sustainable Development Goals and the global pandemic demand that the university as an institution outline new governance strategies for itself and its relationship with both the territory and stakeholders.
The background scenario that feeds these considerations, is, therefore, the university of knowledge which, today more than ever, requires that academia assume the role as a lead actor in territorial development and promotion. A process widely supported and encouraged by the European Community policies which already at the end of the 1980s tended to favour the local dimension as a developmental terminal to be revitalised through decentralisation processes and interventions targeted to support and enhance the proactive participation of the young.
Along the same lines, all the European Commission documents underline the need to guarantee the transmission of a living kind of knowledge, not mere erudition and encyclopaedic facts but oriented towards:
- conveying the ability to learn throughout one’s entire life (life-long learning), by means of creative-divergent thought, necessary to anticipate and solve problems (old and new);
- increasing the self-entrepreneurial, planning and innovative skills required to move within biographies influenced by self-uncertainty (Bauman, 1999), flexibility, precariousness (Gallino, 2001), by the dematerialisation of organisations and work (Sennet, 2001) also fuelled by smart working, the liquid (Bauman, 2000) and risk society (Beck, 1992), the end of work (Rifklin), caused by technological unemployment.
To this long list, today, we can add the social-economic crises and the fragility of welfare configurations foregrounded by the global pandemic. One of the categories affected indirectly and most seriously were the young, confined within the walls of their homes, deprived of all occasions of socialisation and education, abandoned to the solitude of their own poverty. Particularly striking was the deafening silence of the universities.
A warning issued recently by the former president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, denounced the debt that young people have to bear, the risk of subsidies, the theft of their future, the need to invest in quality education and training and the need to make people the protagonists of their time.
For this reason, Draghi says that education and training need to be able to “give more”. This also means, among other things, overcoming the perverse effects of credentialism and the tendency towards hypertrophy of academic qualifications a phenomenon highlighted since the late 1970s by the sociologists of conflict (Collins for example).
The purpose of education is the Integral formation of the person. A “commitment not only formative, but educational” and which includes “Truth, freedom, good”.
2. The evolution of the organisation of universities
When tracing the evolution the institution of university has undergone since its inception, we can distinguish four major phases.
The university-community of the origins, yielded at first to the hegemony of administrative law, which led to its transition from a local academic system to a unitary, centralised one, up to the boom of the mass university. The latterac knowledging the supremacy of management engineering which, in the wake of the New Public Management of the 1980s, tended to promote more effective and efficient economic-financial management, in order to face, finally, the perspective of the “big data” society in a context of global competition (Schönberger, Cukier, 2013), made possible by the technological development of the last thirty years.
Different organisational models of the university correspond to these different stages of development:
- from the small academic community strongly rooted in the local context,
- to the university based on public-statutory teaching and research,
- to the entrepreneurial university besieged by the pressures of new models of fund-raising and technology transfer.
- Now, the university is confronted with an immense new revolutionary challenge determined by the digital age which introduces centrifugal, fragmentary forces, obliging the entire academic community to question itself: what it means to educate, train, learn, carry outre search, innovate and transfer technology in a global world?
Our world is profoundly changed by digital revolutions and afraid of the threat of the global pandemic.
Downstream of the Covid 19 emergency and the online movement of all the activities that until a few months ago seemed impossible, if not irregular, it appears essential to stop and look at the initial situation, to avoid the risk of accepting digital solutions as a panacea for all ills, by trivialising educational action and losing a sense of the holistic and systemic perspective of the foundational relationship between a subject and the community.
2.1 The most frequently encountered delays
The need to resort to Distance Learning during the emergency caused by the lockdown has highlighted the delay that the universities have accumulated over the last twenty years upon various fronts ranging from the ability to exploit the digital reality on a large scale digital:
- in training and teaching practices;
- in the organisation of research;
- in processes of internal organisation;
- in the ability to engage in dialogue with the outside world;
- in establishing itself as a point of reference when it comes to the dissemination of knowledge.
The integration of digital technologies in the environment and in the teaching-learning process is not limited (as occurred during the recent emergency) to the mere transfer, within online contexts, of the traditional teaching-learning activities carried out in the classroom, but requires overall cultural and didactic-organisational re-planning. Although accessibility represents a decisive constraint that cannot be ignored, the quality of teaching-learning cannot be improved simply by investing in the technical dimension.
We entered the lockdown without having fully overcome the grave crisis of 2008. The Covid-19 emergency brought to light degrees of poverty ignored previously but which can no longer be postponed:
- the problem of inequality which continues to polarise society;
- the question of the redistribution of wealth characterised by extremes related to even more unstable scenarios;
- the absence of a political and executive class capable of devising wide-ranging strategies and drawing up long-term plans;
- the absence of attention to and intervention within the territories such as to make concept of participatory governance effective, while overcoming the tendency to intervene with “emergency and top down measures”;
- the issue of the mismatch of skills as well as the need for a system of professions capable of surpassing the twentieth-century model by enlarging and revising emerging profiles and skills that are able to contemplate the developments within the field of labour centred on the disruptive logics and models caused by the digital revolution;
- the data provided by Eurostat inform us that in the EU58% of the population aged between 16 and 74 have basic digital skills, meaning a significant impact upon the use of digital services, the exercise of an active and responsible kind of citizenship and democratic participation.
3. Integrated policies between community and responsibility
The world of work is traversed by the radical transformation introduced by the so-called Industry 4. Until about twenty years ago, technological innovation regarded automation mainly and, therefore, created labour surpluses within the sphere of manual labour.
Today, digital innovation, with developments related to data analysis and artificial intelligence, risks making white-collar jobs obsolete. This causes new frailties to emerge and creates the polarization within the system of trades and professions. This means that the working world is being divided between:
- highly-skilled persons who have gained significant experience, know-how and abilities so that they are sought after more and more and paid higher wages or salaries;
- and a large low-skilled or unskilled sector of the population, or of skilled personnel employed in low-protection sectors (carers, social-health workers, social-welfare educators, etc.), who find themselves in a distressful state of eternal transition, moving from one project contract to another.
These are situations to which active, social, training, family and community policies through a system-based perspective, should make an effort to respond in a different way, because the area of ‘care’, as the pandemic emergency has demonstrated so eloquently, is neither interchangeable nor can it be postponed.
There are two things the global pandemic has taught us all.
The first is that “no one can save himself”. The other can – and must – be an ally. To solve complex problems (like the sociology of organisation teaches), one needs to act in a coordinated and cohesive manner.
The second is that the concept of ‘care’ cannot be interpreted in negative welfare, residual and institutionalised terms. It needs to recover its positive connotation meaning that which is revealed through self-expression, diligent and caring action towards the other, the environment and entities with which we enter into relationships.
Enhancing the care model instead of the production model means imagining and planning a different social and community system that has its roots in a cultural system (training, organisation and work) that acknowledges person and the community placing them rather than the consumption, at the core of life.
The need to move from active to integrated policies has been theorised at least since the 1990s (Capogna, 2014). Policies capable of bringing together different subjects, skills and levels through system-oriented actions and interventions aimed at enhancing the territories and bestowing meaning on that concept of ‘governance’ which, if not implemented, turns into a fragmentation of skills and delegation of responsibility.
3.1 Cooperation and integration
To try to design a new post-Covid normality, it is necessary to start from a new way of conceiving research and of teaching people how to become professionals. In particular, the professionalism of teachers is not limited to the mere acquisition of purely disciplinary knowledge and skills, nor to the physical confines of the classroom and the ritual and scenic paraphernalia that accompanies a traditional lesson or lecture. The teacher is increasingly required to:
- design environments and pathways for the discovery and construction of knowledge;
- manage personalised, customised and disjointed learning environments and processes, aimed at an audience of students who bring to the school (thanks to mass schooling processes) a number of unresolved requests and problems, which we could not have even imagined a mere twenty years ago;
- practice the art of empowering evaluation which permits everyone to trigger their personal resources for the exercise of an active and responsible citizenship to face the challenges posed by global, sustainable development;
- acquire knowledge and skills capable of fostering the management of interpersonal, group, organisational and communication processes, within digital environments too;
- remember that all this is useless if the educational act is not grafted onto the Master-Student relationship. This is not a matter of an aseptic, impersonal teacher-learner relationship, but an authentic and profound reciprocal rapport, based on the empathic acknowledgement of the other, and, therefore, a liaison that is always unique and specific.
This kind of didactic reality cannot be replaced by Distance Learning, nor can it be compensated for by any kind of digital technology. The good news is that they need not clash, on the contrary, they can be complementary.
In a context of global society and knowledge, it is increasingly important that Academic consider itself a ‘community of co-responsibility’ capable of fostering a renewed culture of the “network”, capable of re-creatings table and virtuous relationships within the territories where they operate – and beyond those – to:
- cultivate share capital;
- direct projects of development towards the changes imposed by the digital revolution;
- overcome the interventions divide and espouse approaches capable of getting traditionally distinct segments to engage in dialogue.
In this context, the mechanisms of cooperation that drive social actors (individuals and organisations) to self-organise so as to engage actively in the “network of systemic complexity become very relevant. In a perspective of this type, the third mission considers the transfer of technology as an aspect of the broader context of the territorial network and its ability to govern the dissemination, in close relationship with educational innovation, of the results of scientific and technological research. In this case, the social dimension is an integral part of the process of collective emancipation which focuses on the active and responsible participation of subjects and of the broader social, economic and productive systems.
Finally, and above all, it is important that Academia is enabled to contribute to the promotion of a renewed cultural framework, which needs to begin by a mere production-related, market-based vision of work, in favour of a global vision, capable of recovering and enhancing a “new humanism” oriented towards care. It is care, actually, that has permitted humanity to continue from the dawn of existence to the threshold of modernity.
Academia needs to reflect on the issue of the value of work, emphasising the fact that the real challenge must be played at cultural level of we are to enhance the human dimension of labour as an opportunity to foster citizenship, participation, care and inclusion. The human dimension of work is the true meaning of human existence which expresses itself through creativity, emancipation and collective efforts that generate belongingness and the well-being of a community. This is why it is necessary to reflect on the multidimensionality of work and its social as well as economic dimension.
If “crisis means the moment when something old is dying and something new is being born“, this is the time for the University to become more participatory, responsible, creative, involved, endowed with the ability to intervene within its territories.