Campus 2049: HEDQF/Buro4 debate

Date & Time:21st February 2018

It was standing room only for an excellent and wide-ranging debate on the Future of Universities with questions from the floor well answered by the panel comprising:

  • Peter Clegg, Founding Partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
  • Nick Searl, Partner at Argent
  • Martin Hamilton, Futurist at Jisc
  • Julian Robinson, Director of Estates, London School of Economics
  • Jeremy Melvin, Curator and Writer

What were the Top Thoughts?

  1. The Impact of Technology

Inevitably the first question from the audience was, in this fast changing digital-world, what will be the impact of future digital developments.  In a week in which academic staff in many universities were going on strike, would it not be more effective if teaching was on-line?

The view of the panel was that the digital world will be increasingly important, but in partnership with the physical world.   Universities will be places where students and staff meet and interact, both indoors and outside in the public realm.  While lectures that impart basic knowledge may progressively move on-line, universities will focus on proving an environment for being students and staff to meet, question, discuss and debate, plus provide specialist and experimental facilities such as laboratories and simulation suites.   What about the lecture theatre?  Following on from the discussion at King’s College London last year, the view the lecture theatre will refocus on being a place for inspirational lectures, and the role to impart basic information to students reduce.  There will be fewer lecture theatres, but better and more interactive.

With AI, technology can be used as a coach/mentor and enable greater outreach.

Will technology change the way that examinations are held, with intelligence apps able to identify cheating and removing the need for examination halls and paper scripts?

  1.  The shape of the Higher Education Sector

The sector is continually being challenged.  Brexit is a major issue for future student numbers and recruiting international academic staff, given the large proportion of students and staff who currently come from the EU.  So too is the political landscape with a focus on reducing cost and increasing quality.

Has the sector lost its way in the search for ever-increasing numbers?   Will there be a refocus in universities on quality and on what they do well?  Will the future comprise a multi-tier system, with research universities, teaching/vocational universities and a much stronger and better-funded role for the further education sector, with credit transfer enabling students to move across different institutions.

The current funding model does need revision, but it is unlikely that universities will benefit from additional funding; they therefore have to continue to be imaginative about how they deliver high quality teaching and research, while reducing costs.

  1. Changing roles for universities

Universities are rediscovering their civic, entrepreneurial and community roles.  One of the reasons why major organisations want to be based at King’s Cross, for example, is the integration of major international teaching and research institutions such as the University of the Arts and the Crick, in addition to the British Library.

In the future, the university will be a hub with many spokes and outreach programmes, potentially across the world, and have a much greater role in supporting start-ups and enterprise both inside and outside their institutions.

  1. New Opportunities

The period of large-scale university investment in the UK may be coming to an end.  The university of the future will have many partnerships, from local to international.  China may have had its day for international partnerships:  Africa is a country to watch.

New technologies and new industries such as AI, apps and robotics are growing at a phenomenal speed – how can universities take advantage of these?   Private organisations such as Dyson and Deep Mines are establishing their own universities because the higher education sector appears unable to support their needs.

  1. Breaking down barriers

Universities will be communities of scholars, with no closed corridors, and continually-increasing focus on breaking down barriers and on interdisciplinary working with a growing need for flexible, fluid spaces both inside universities and externally, with a stronger overlap with external organisations/communities.

  1. Do universities need to own their buildings?

University buildings are important parts of their brands, many of them historic, timeless, iconic buildings such as the main building at UCL or MIT.  Equally important are the spaces between the buildings and how campuses connect into the environment around them.  The majority of students will still want the campus experience and the independent life it brings.  Campuses will make students feel welcome and new technologies will personalise their experience as they move through.

On the other hand, universities of the future will have stronger connections with their local communities, with much greater permeability and research and teaching taking place in external organisations as well as in the core university buildings, while commercial and community organisations will also jointly work on projects within taking university buildings.   There may be more partnerships such as the Hive in Worcester with opportunities for universities to have flexible arrangements as much for strategic academic reasons as property ones.

  1. How can architecture shape the future?

Architecture should delight, stimulate enable communication between different communities and different subjects.  Flexible buildings mean buildings that can easily be reconfigured to respond to future changes.  Interior design is important and should reflect personality, identity and the culture of the university.

  1. Using data more intelligently

Universities will use data more intelligently, not only in Big Data research but in creating intelligent campuses that link student activities to timetabling and space, support sustainability and wellness and perhaps at last enable the cellular office to reduce in importance….but major institutions such as Harvard need to show the way.

In Summary

  • 2049 is a long way into the future, but the feeling was of gradual change as universities continual to evolve, rather than of seismic shifts.
  • Universities have to respond to a number of technological, societal and political changes. This will impact on the design of future university buildings.  Digital innovation is an increasingly important partner to the physical estate.
  • University campuses will remain important, but may change in focus, with boundaries being blurred, both within universities and with neighbouring communities.
  • Architectural design is important – Universities are guardians of many iconic heritage buildings (both old and new), which give them identity across the world.  Future design that enables easy future reconfiguration is important in a fast changing world.  .
  • Universities of the future will focus on excellence at what they do (which will differ between universities), and will be able to change quickly and respond to new opportunities as they become more entrepreneurial.

Many thanks to Buro4 for sponsoring and to the excellent panellists.

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