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Compass set to the future

Last week, I took part in the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) annual conference in Luleå on the theme of universities of the future, to which several international speakers had been invited. This week, several KTH colleagues and I visited the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim to hear about the successful work they have been doing since 2019 with regard to engineering degrees of the future.

Two very rewarding trips. Not least that we realised that KTH is on the right track with our study programmes of the future that we started a year ago under the direction of the Board of Education. Work that will be broadened and substantially intensified moving forward.

Various observations. We are in the middle of transformative changes in the university sector globally and it will not necessarily be the case that universities of technology that are successful today will automatically continue to be so in the future.

Characteristic of successful universities of technology in the future is that campuses will be used to a far greater extent to train engineering skills in makerspace like environments, for spontaneous and planned social interaction both between students and between students and teachers. Digital tools and environments will be used to a far greater extent, especially when this benefits learning. Plus, learning experiences will be educationally well-developed with student centric activities, with a diversity of flexible learning activities and forms of examination, often fully integrated.

Student projects will be authentic and challenge driven, with societal relevance and where solutions have no set answers. Students will work in an interdisciplinary way and often together with other student categories such as from the humanities, social sciences, and law. In addition to adequate engineering skills, self-reflection, leadership, innovation skills and training in ethical issues will be developed at the same time.

Students, teachers and researchers in successful universities of technology of the future will be the most suitable, have an equal gender balance and with a broad range of backgrounds from all aspects. Their backgrounds will represent society in general and thereby contribute with various relevant perspectives in both education and research. Students will be enrolled in programmes and engage in lifelong learning. They will not only participate in learning how to learn but also to access new technological developments, especially those that will continue their professional development. The strong connection between education and research will become even stronger.

Teachers will work together, be assiduous users of study resources already developed by international colleagues, and encourage students to use relevant research findings in their studies to solve assignments. They will also encourage students to dare to try totally new solutions and perhaps fail. There’s no success without failures.

In successful universities of technology of the future, continued discipline related knowledge will be important. However, this will be developed in learning contexts that are relevant for engineering students. As they will see the direct benefits of discipline related knowledge, they will naturally be interested in further in-depth study of their discipline.

Next week, I will participate in the annual REDIR [Presidents and Deans in Sweden] conference in Luleå where the development of study programmes of the future where the majority of universities with engineering and science programmes of the future will be in focus.

However, to achieve this, we need to keep the compass pointing, and continue to develop, in the right direction together.