The Future of Higher Education: how are universities agents of Social Change ?

18 April 2014

The second Princeton-Fung Global Forum on “The Future of Higher Education” was held in Paris on April 9-11, 2014. The forum is intended to enhance universities' international scholarly engagement and to inspire collaborative thinking about key global issues. HEC Paris Dean Bernard Ramanantsoa gave a speech on "Universities and Development: How Are Universities Agents of Social Change?"

Looking to future, educators and policymakers see universities as agents for change - Bernard Ramanantsoa - Princeton Forum

Some 250 participants – among them top government officials, university leaders, Nobel prize laureates – attended the forum in the Hotel de Ville, Paris France.

Concluding a three-day conference in Paris, education leaders and policymakers from around the world shared a vision of the future in which universities anticipate, influence and drive change in global society.

 "In a split world where everyone has a singular mindset, universities are in fact a great agent of transversality," Bernard Ramanantsoa, dean of HEC Paris, said in the opening presentation on the final day of the Princeton-Fung Global Forum. Dean Ramanantsoa stressed the importance of universities taking a long-term view and protecting their mission, resisting market-driven approaches that demand short-term results.  Reinforcing the long-term view, Dean Ramanantsoa noted that universities are training students for the coming decades. "Universities are the place where it's possible to create innovation, entrepreneurship, interculturality and open mindedness," he said. "Universities are much more than just an agent. Today, universities, through the faculty and through the students, are making social change."

He added: "we made a mistake the first time we decided to use the metaphors of companies in our enterprise". According to him, universities should resist the urge to view students as customers; "Students are not customers, students are students".

On the agenda was the role of new technologies – notably massive open online courses or MOOCs, with Coursera co-founder and Daphne Koller among the speakers – universities in the global age, how to expand access to diverse populations, universities as agents of social change and “The Future of Undergraduate Education: Breadth or depth?”

In a session on models for sustainable success, moderator Matthew Bishop, US business editor and New York bureau chief of the Economist, talked about a recent survey of 900 college graduates of 20 years ago aimed at finding out if higher education had paid off. It found vast differences between the pay-offs of different degrees.

Lan Xue, dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing, agreed that social change is important but said it should not supplant the core teaching and research missions at universities.

Ambuj Sagar, a professor of policy studies at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, added that universities must insulate themselves to protect academic freedom but not isolate themselves; they must stay connected to society.

Over the course of the conference, education executives, government officials and policymakers discussed and debated the future of universities “in this interdependent yet competitive world”, across national divides, seeking new ideas for policies and practices that might improve opportunities for students, scholars and universities around the world.

In closing remarks, Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber thanked Fung for making the forum possible. He described the Paris conference as a "wonderful series of rich conversations" that he hopes will "forge networks that will continue over time."

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