Lifelong learning requires resources and commitment

Now, during the last few intense days of the semester, it seems like a good time to think for a while about the concept of learning. Learning takes place every day throughout life, on a major and minor scale. Being a university, we have learning at the centre of our activities: learning through research and learning among our students. The knowledge produced by KTH Royal Institute of Technology is turned into something beneficial through close dialogue and cooperation. More often than not, KTH learns from society and vice versa, and that’s how it should be.

In recent years, lifelong learning has re-emerged as a key issue in Sweden and most likely throughout the rest of the world. Rapid social development involving new technological solutions requires new knowledge and expertise. Sweden can delight in the fact that it has a generally well-educated population, but knowledge is not a finite thing, so none of us should become complacent and think: “I now know everything there is to know.”

Last Monday I took part in a lunch seminar organised by the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) on the theme of lifelong learning (click here for the TCO blog in Swedish). Universities and institutes of higher education are responsible for providing education based on scientific principles and best practice. To do this, we receive direct government funding for first and second cycle education; our main task is to use these resources to provide such education to those who have not received it. This means educating engineers, nurses, economists, students of literature and so on.

This funding has been undermined for several years. At the same time, a productivity deduction applies to all government agencies, universities and institutes of higher education, which in short means that the organisation’s productivity must be boosted by improving efficiency. In practice, this means that students have to work faster and researchers have to produce research more quickly. An impossible equation.

Where KTH is concerned, this has meant that it has gradually become increasingly taxing to maintain the crucial practical part: the infrastructure, which is absolutely necessary for the engineering profession. That’s why it is most unfortunate if the Swedish Government and Parliament think that our mandate can be expanded to include an increasing number of tasks for the same sum of money. This also seems to be the thinking when it comes to lifelong learning.

KTH is happy to take responsibility for lifelong learning; we believe that the step involved in becoming proficient in all aspects of digitisation, AI and more is smaller for engineers who have already been educated. Such engineers are not required to take a further MSc programme in engineering. But their knowledge does need topping up. Who is responsible for making this happen? Resources will be required, but so will commitment and energy!

The responsibility is shared by many parties, including the politicians who decide on the resources that should be allocated to universities and institutes of higher education to enable us to take part in lifelong learning. But resources are also needed among employers: resources in the form of time and money to be used for developing the skills of their employees. Each individual also needs to constantly review their skills and spend time and energy on replenishing them. This is a complex puzzle that we need to work out together.

Learning methods and techniques are being developed all the time. Flexible solutions that provide many people with access to education and the opportunity to better themselves are positive, but at the end of the day, there needs to be scope in daily life for the individual to top up their knowledge through lifelong learning. Regardless of the structures we build.