The autonomy of universities and the freedom to innovate | Opinion

Universities exist to face the unknown. Therefore, they must be autonomous, that is, have the freedom to organize themselves, teach, investigate and relate in an appropriate way, without external constraints.

The revision of the Legal Regime of Higher Education Institutions is under discussion. It is time to think about what autonomy means and its importance for the development of universities.

It is our thesis that universities must transform themselves to create innovation ecosystems. At a time when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are gaining momentum, “Green” and “Digital” become “great ideas” and leitmotifs of the debate. Universities must collaborate with each other and with the outside world to face the challenges of digital transition and sustainability according to socially and digitally integrated models that respond to global challenges.

Universities must create adequate structures and mechanisms for the development of social and digital innovation projects; incorporating societal and sustainability priorities in a systemic way, becoming protagonists of citizenship; embrace inter and transdisciplinarity in research and teaching; promote intersectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration; encourage the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI); strengthen the mobility of people with companies and enhance the transfer of knowledge; promote smart learning and create flexible, accessible and adaptive learning systems for all people; develop new curricula supported by “green”, digital and ethical skills to ensure the effective use of AI (tools such as ChatGPT should be seen as advances in support of learning); give relevance to people’s quality of life.

They must, in short, review their missions and ways of acting, clearly defining their institutional profiles, in a differentiated and complementary way.

Segmenting university functions is a mistake. Universities must teach what they investigate and transfer knowledge tendentially freely or by reinvesting the capital obtained.

In the future, teaching will be hybrid or online based on new learning methodologies and students will be evaluated differently. Research will be linked to teaching and knowledge transfer. All of this requires massive investments, both public and private.

Universities must invest in adaptive learning programs, in collaborative teaching and learning technologies and digital resources, in online teaching anywhere in the world. They should create programs that give students the experience of putting their talents and knowledge into practice by working in organizations and combining learning objectives with community service. Participants must be trained in computing and digital education, learn to think critically and creatively and to self-regulate their increasingly disruptive practices. They should also increase levels of collaboration and empathy in teaching and learning processes.

Research must have social impact and be innovative. It is necessary to create “open” laboratories that contribute to the increase of scientific education and the involvement of people in the definition of research agendas. New information technologies and AI will favor democratic approaches in the management and transfer of knowledge to society.

The SDGs must integrate new curricula and research agendas on a larger scale. In Society and Industry 5.0 (with machines and people working together), society is at the center of the innovation system. Education, Research and Innovation will be promoted by universities, companies and other actors, who will develop flexible and workplace-based forms of lifelong learning.

Universities must listen to the communities, recognize the nature and social relevance of their intervention and assume the responsibility of acting against democratic retreat. The Quadruple and Quintuple Helix Innovation Framework (Carayannis and Campbell), which describes the interactions between university, industry, government, public, and environment in a knowledge economy, holds that only an evolved knowledge democracy fosters knowledge and innovation.

We defend a socially and digitally committed university that assumes new roles. It will work as a place for “prototyping” a humanist culture, with technological development and the creation of power capital, that is, integrating “superintelligent societies” where shared people, knowledge, technology and innovation favor social well-being.

In the future, competition between universities in the search for visibility and funding will increase in a context of great demographic challenges (urbanization, aging society and decreasing birth rates) and the shift towards a more technological society. Universities will have to deal with the need to operate in a global (digital) context by adapting their curricula, which are still national. It is a complex reality that requires a balance between teaching (technology and digital innovation will gain weight), research (which must be relevant to communities) and practice (students must be prepared with skills for the market of work).

These are demanding times for higher education and for professors/researchers, who must develop new skills, a new ability to deal with rapid changes and new perspectives for a full professional life. Lifelong education will be the expression of innovative teaching that will respond to the needs of people known only to them.

Education is fundamental for personal progress and for social and political cohesion. As professors and directors of a public distance education university, we highlight the fact that open, online and distance learning not only requires innovation, rethinking, systemic changes, new organizational strategies, but also being at the forefront. We have no doubt that, in the operational field, digital technologies and practices will support changes in the main dimensions of universities, namely in governance. In order to change and reposition themselves, universities need to be autonomous and have the means.

This article aims to spark debate.

The authors write according to the new spelling agreement

Leave a Comment

I want to Sell this domain contact at [email protected]