The event offered a number of plenary sessions, and, for the main part, parallel interactive sessions focusing on various aspects of the themes selected for this year. Of particular note was one of the opening addresses, in which Dr. Gerald Bast, President of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, sternly warned the audience that at this immensely critical time, universities must either adapt or perish and let companies take over the task of training workers for the jobs of tomorrow. He delineated a higher education future where curricula will be increasingly personalized, collaboration between institutions will grow at the expense of competition, and degrees will become less important, as a majority of Europeans over 18 years of age will participate in one form of higher education or another.
Other talks put a recurrent focus on another evolving trend: the breaking of disciplinary barriers toward ever-expanding interdisciplinary approaches to learning and teaching.
Some interactive sessions on Future Jobs invited attendees to reflect on how universities should adapt to the fact that tomorrow’s labor will require a mix of technical, scientific and interpersonal skills, thus of transversal competencies (as defined, for example, by UNESCO), while many others introduced case studies of specific university programs implemented across Europe that illustrate dynamic modes of such an adaptation (e.g. encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation from the undergraduate level, using AI to train students for job interviews).
Other sessions, on Future Students, introduced new concepts such as flexible learning based on the flipped-classroom approach and aimed at part-time students that allows up to 10 years to complete a degree (Netherlands), or guiding programs aimed at minorities with little access to higher education that tutor and monitor students, from selecting an area of learning all the way to finding a quality job on the labor market (Israel).
On the subject of Future Universities, the sessions explored, among other themes, the need to create European-level standards for digital credentials and the recognition of open learning, and the use of technology (e.g. a teaching assistant robot, teaching students via virtual reality) that will soon foster an entire tech culture in which students will be steeped. In the emerging tech-based learning schemes, teachers and instructors no longer act as keepers of knowledge to be imparted, because students are no longer interested in acquiring instant knowledge (which they can find on the internet). Instead, students learn from one another and instructors become coaches or trainers that guide students through team activities in which students must deal with a specific challenge. At play here is the great transition that universities are facing, from transmitting knowledge to developing competencies.
In the closing plenary session, speakers emphasized the fact that by 2025, education in Europe will have become a flexible, life-long process relying in part on microcredentials that will cater to learners’ changing needs throughout their professional lives.