Reflecting on role of universities in the digital era

As the world becomes more digitalised and there is free flow of knowledge, a panel of international experts and thought leaders examined the role of universities in the face of technological disruptions.

The large crowd at the public forum.

The large crowd at the public forum.

The public forum on the “Role of The University in a Digitally Disrupted Age” at the WOU main campus today was moderated by Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Chairman of the International Advisory Board (IAB) of WOU’s George Town Institute of Open and Advanced Studies (GIOAS), with the IAB members as panel speakers.

The panel of speakers with the moderator Tan Sri Andrew Sheng (3rd from right).

The panel of speakers with the moderator Tan Sri Andrew Sheng (3rd from right).

Dr Stephen Oppenheimer, a British geneticist and author from Oxford University, said that universities should not just teach a standard curriculum and then assess the students’ knowledge at the end of the course. “Students must know how to interpret evidence and knowledge so that they can better apply their skills, preparing themselves for potential work in the future.”

He doubted if conventional universities with a rigid syllabus can move with the changes in technology and the diversity in digital media, unlike open universities which are already using digital media and online courses, and can offer more flexibility.

Dr Douglass Carmichael (centre) offers his view as Mr Jan Wouter Vasbinder (left) and Tan Sri Andrew Sheng look on.

Dr Douglass Carmichael (centre) offers his view as Mr Jan Wouter Vasbinder (left) and Tan Sri Andrew Sheng look on.

Dr Douglass Carmichael, Economic Advisor of Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), US, said that 80% of the jobs now would likely change, and therefore “universities must offer new programmes and new experiences”.

Mr Jan Wouter Vasbinder, founding President of Institute Para Limes, Europe, remarked, “There is large body of knowledge in the world to deal with the complexities of life. The key is to bring that knowledge to address the problem. We therefore need knowledge, skills and expertise over various disciplines, that is, interdisciplinary measures, to meet the challenges of the future. We also need universities to educate leaders of the future and prepare them to shape a better future.”

Dr Shiu expounds on the role of university in the digital era.

Dr Shiu expounds on the role of university in the digital era.

On the nature of disruptions to the University in the digital era, Dr Shiu Man Fai, former consultant cardiologist at Royal Free Hospital, London, said universities that cannot modernise or change their model to adapt to the digital age, will disappear in 5-10 years.

“The role of the university is to look at the new generation, who have access to enormous amount of information. Fact is they do need guidance; they need to learn in order to explore. We need to show them the way to get answers as they will have to think for themselves in their working life. So the role of the university is to use the technology and teach them to think for themselves and adapt to further challenges,” stressed Dr Shiu.

Dr Reddy (right), former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Dr Reddy (right), former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

On whether universities are irrelevant in this digital age, due to channels like Khan Academy, Dr Yaga Venugopal Reddy, former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said one cannot replace traditional universities. Dr Oppenheimer quipped that “open universities are the promise of the future because of the flexibility and the potential to be interdisciplinary.”

Dato’ Yew Tung Seang commends the University and GIOAS for gathering an impressive panel of speakers to share their experiences and thoughts.

Dato’ Yew Tung Seang commends the University and GIOAS for gathering an impressive panel of speakers to share their experiences and thoughts.

More than 200 people, including Penang Island City Council mayor Dato’ Ar Yew Tung Seang and representatives from various higher learning institutions and the industrial sector, attended the event.