How Education Made Us

The story of how education shaped, and continues to shape, humanity.  In this exclusive series of interviews we learn about how education has, and continues to shape our world.  We speak to Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin (Chair of the Board, Nobel Foundation), Sal Khan (Founder, Khan Academy), Professor Lino Guzzella (President, ETH Zurich), Bunker Roy (Founder, Barefoot College), Professor Anant Agarwal (CEO, edX), Professor Sanjay Sarma (Vice President for Open Learning, MIT), Professor M. Aslam (Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU), Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell (President, the University of Manchester), Professor Tan Chorh Chuan (President, National University of Singapore), Shai Reshef (President, UOPeople), Professor Michael Arthur (President & Provost, University College London – UCL), Dr. Andrew Hamilton (President, NYU), Professor Daphne Koller (Co-Founder, Coursersa) and Irina Bokova (Director-General, UNESCO).

We, Homo sapiens, have been members of this planet’s biosphere for a geologically insignificant length of time.  For the majority of that time, we were an aggressive yet intelligent ‘super-monkey,’ but the past 5,000 years have seen us evolve into a species warranting it’s very own epoch, the Anthropocene.

Curiously, “…the brains of our ancestor Homo sapiens were the same as our brains,” wrote Professor Gary Thomas, adding “we are the same people, physically: today, we have no additional neurons, no better wiring.  But our tools for thinking – our ideas, hypotheses, theories, models – are marvellously improved.  How to draw, how to write, how to think, have all been learned, sometimes with great difficulty, and the learning has been passed on.  The only reason we are better at thinking and doing things now – the only reason that Aristotle, Michelangelo, and Einstein blazed into the intellectual firmament in the last couple of thousand years and not 30,000 years ago – is that we accumulate knowledge and pass ideas and information from one generation to the next.  With the accumulation, we get better.  And better.” (Education, 2013)

The steep increase in the trajectory of our development is perhaps most likely because of our ability “to crystallize and store knowledge in specialised sounds and language, and then play with it – build and forge and mould it and model with it – using it to grip hold of the past and to imagine and plan the future.”  By arriving at social-consensus on what the format of this knowledge should be (language) we have been able to pass on complex information to our offspring, friends, and colleagues.  As Professor Thomas notes, “..out of our cleverness has emerged something almost more important than the cleverness itself.  Out of it has come learning about how to share ideas and pass down skills and knowledge.   Out of it has come education.

Our faculty for education is perhaps the most important divider between our species and others, and we invest a huge amount of our resource into it.  The global education market accounts for around 10% of world-GDP, and we (typically) invest around one quarter to one-third of our entire life completely immersed in education; a significant investment of perhaps our most limited resource- our time on this Earth.

In this exclusive series of interviews we learn about how education has, and continues to shape our world.  We speak to Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin (Chair of the Board, Nobel Foundation), Sal Khan (Founder, Khan Academy), Professor Lino Guzzella (President, ETH Zurich), Bunker Roy (Founder, Barefoot College), Professor Anant Agarwal (CEO, edX), Professor Sanjay Sarma (Vice President for Open Learning, MIT), Professor M. Aslam (Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU), Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell (President, the University of Manchester), Professor Tan Chorh Chuan (President, National University of Singapore), Shai Reshef (President, UOPeople), Professor Michael Arthur (President & Provost, University College London – UCL), Dr. Andrew Hamilton (President, NYU), Professor Daphne Koller (Co-Founder, Coursersa) and Irina Bokova (Director-General, UNESCO).

[bios]Carl-Henrik Heldin has been Director of the Ludwig Institute in Uppsala since 1986. He is also a professor of Molecular Cell Biology at Uppsala University. Heldin was born in 1952, and obtained a PhD in Medical and Physiological Chemistry in 1980 at the University of Uppsala, where he continued to work until 1985 in a position sponsored by the Swedish Cancer Society.

Professor Heldin is an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (1989), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1991), Royal Scientific Society (Uppsala; 1995), Academia Europea (1999), Japanese Association for Cancer Research (2002), Finnish Scientific Society (2006), ScanBalt Academy (2006), Hellenic Biochemical Society (2007), Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters (2009) and European Academy of Cancer Sciences (2009). I am Doctor honoris causa at the universities of Patras (2009), Helsinki (2010), Turku (2011) and Heidelberg (2011).

Heldin has served on the Scientific Advisory Boards for several companies and academic institutions, including the European Molecular Biology Organization, Heidelberg; the German Cancer Center, Heidelberg; and the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Martinsried; and now serve on the Scientific Advisory Boards for the European Institute for Oncology, Milan; Biotechnology Center, Oslo; Center for Molecular Medicine, Vienna; and the Finnish Institute for Molecular Medicine, Helsinki. He has served on the Board of the Swedish Research Council, and am  Vice President of the European Research Council and the Chair of the Board of the Nobel Foundation.

Professor Heldin has published 394 research articles and 195 review articles, and have 26 approved patents. His work has been cited more than 55,000 times.

Salman Luis (Sal) Khan is a New Orleans educator, entrepreneur, philanthropist and former hedge fund analyst. He is the founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and non-profit organization. From a closet in his home, Khan has produced 11,445 videos, teaching a wide spectrum of academic subjects, mainly focusing on mathematics and the sciences. As of July 2015, the main Khan Academy Channel on YouTube attracted 2,400,000 subscribers.

Professor Dr. Lino Guzzella is President of ETH Zurich.  After receiving his mechanical engineering diploma in 1981 and his doctoral degree in 1986 from ETH, he held several positions in industry (R&D team leader, Sulzer Brothers, Winterthur; R&D mechatronics department head, Hilti, Schaan) and academia (assistant and associate professor in the electrical engineering and mechanical engineering department at ETH; Honda Visiting Professor at The Ohio State University).

Among others he received the IEEE-MSC – Industry Award for Excellence in Translational Control Research, IEEE Control Systems Magazine Outstanding Paper Award, the SAE Arch T. Colwell Merit Award and the Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award, the IMechE Thomas Hawksley Medal and Crompton Lancaster Medal, the Energy Globe Award and the Golden Owl 2011 for Excellence in Teaching.

Prof. Guzzella has published more than 100 research articles in peer refereed journals and conferences as well as two research textbooks (Introduction to Modeling and Control of IC Engine Systems, Springer Verlag, 2nd. Ed. 2010 and Vehicle Propulsion Systems – Modeling and Optimization, Springer Verlag, 3rd Ed. 2013). He has been a keynote speaker at many conferences worldwide.  Prof. Guzzella is a fellow of IFAC and a fellow of IEEE and a member of the Swiss academy of engineering sciences (SATW). Prof. Guzzella is member of several international and national research committees and has been member of the board of governors of IFAC and member of the Swiss CTI Committee on Engineering Sciences.

Sanjit “Bunker” Roy is an Indian social activist and educator who founded the Barefoot College. He was selected as one of Time 100’s 100 most influential personalities in 2010 for his work in educating illiterate and semi literate rural Indians.

Barefoot College is a non-governmental organization that has been providing basic services and solutions to problems in rural communities for more than 40 years, with the objective of making them self-sufficient and sustainable. These ‘Barefoot solutions’ can be broadly categorized into the delivery of Solar Electrification, Clean Water, Education, Livelihood Development, and Activism. With a geographic focus on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), we believe strongly in Empowering Women as agents of sustainable change.

Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX, an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. Anant taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. He has served as the director of CSAIL, MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. He is a successful serial entrepreneur, having co-founded several companies including Tilera Corporation, which created the Tile multicore processor, and Virtual Machine Works.

Anant won the Maurice Wilkes prize for computer architecture, and MIT’s Smullin and Jamieson prizes for teaching. He holds a Guinness World Record for the largest microphone array, and is an author of the textbook “Foundations of Analog and Digital Electronic Circuits.”

Scientific American selected his work on organic computing as one of 10 World- Changing Ideas in 2011, and he was named in Forbes’ list of top 15 education innovators in 2012. Anant, a pioneer in computer architecture, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a fellow of the ACM.

Sanjay Sarma is the Vice President for Open Learning. He also leads the Office of Digital Learning, which oversees MIT OpenCourseWare and supports the development and use of digital technology for on-campus teaching and massive open online courses (MOOCs). He is also the Fred Fort Flowers (1941) and Daniel Fort Flowers (1941) Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.

A co-founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, Sarma developed many of the key technologies behind the EPC suite of RFID standards now used worldwide. He was the founder and CTO of OATSystems, which was acquired by Checkpoint Systems (NYSE: CKP) in 2008, and he has worked at Schlumberger Oilfield Services in Aberdeen, UK, and at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories in Berkeley, California.

Currently, Sarma serves on the boards of GS1, EPCglobal, several startup companies including Senaya and ESSESS, and edX, the not-for-profit company set up by MIT and Harvard to create and promulgate an open-source platform for the distribution of free online education worldwide. He also advises several national governments and global companies.

Prof. Aslam is currently  Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU, the world’s largest university with over 4 million students.  Earlier he served IGNOU as Director, School of Continuing Education, from May 1998-May,2001 and again  from January, 2009 to October, 2011. He also served as Director , National Centre for Innovations in Distance Education, IGNOU from   Dec, 2006-Feb., 2009.  He was Professor of Rural Development School of Continuing Education (SOCE), IGNOU   since  May, 1992.

He earlier served as Founder Director (Trg) at the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia & the Pacific (CIRDAP ) , based in Dhaka for 8 years between 1981-88. CIRDAP  is a regional,  inter-governmental  and  international  organisation   established  in  1979  by  the   countries of the Asia-Pacific region at  the  initiative of the FAO of the United Nations

Prof. M. Aslam has rich and varied experience both at national and international levels in University Administration; Distance & Continuing Education; ICT, Communication and Extension; Multi-Media in Distance Eduction; Training Methodology; Training skills; and Transactional Analysis from his 39 years career in the field, out of which he spent about 25 years as a Professor/ Director at IGNOU and about 8 years on an international assignment. He is internationally known trainer and a teacher.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, FRS, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, leads by example.  Her own research in the field of neuroscience, which is ongoing, has contributed towards major advances in the understanding and treatment of brain damage in stroke and head injury.

She joined the Victoria University of Manchester in 1987, became Professor of Physiology in 1994 and held an MRC Research Chair from 1998 to 2010. Concurrent with her Faculty posts she has also held University roles as Vice-President for Research (2004–2007) and as Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (2007–2010).

She was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in June 2004 and made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in June 2005 in recognition of her services to science.

Dame Nancy became President and Vice-Chancellor in July 2010, the first woman to lead The University of Manchester or either of its two predecessor institutions. She was the founding President of the Society of Biology, a non-executive Director of AstraZeneca, co-Chair of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, a Royal Society Council Member, a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater Manchester and a member of the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership Board.

Professor Tan Chorh Chuan was appointed President of the National University of Singapore in December 2008. He concurrently serves as the Chairman of the Board of the National University Health System. Prof Tan’s additional appointments include Deputy Chairman of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR); Senior Advisor to the Governing Board of Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School; Member, Board of Directors of the Monetary Authority of Singapore; and Member, Board of Directors of Mandai Safari Park Holdings.

Prof Tan, who has been a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global University Leaders Forum (GULF) since 2008, was appointed Chair of GULF in 2014 for a two-year term. He was the Chairperson of the International Alliance of Research Universities, a consortium of 10 leading research-intensive universities from 2008 – 2012, and is currently on the Steering Committee of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities.

Prof Tan was previously a Commonwealth Medical Fellow, Wellcome Fellow, University of Oxford, and a Visiting Scholar to Wolfson College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Royal College of Physicians of London, the American College of Physicians, elected Fellow of the Polish Academy of Medicine and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, UK. Prof Tan is also the first Singaporean to be elected as an international member of the US National Academy of Medicine.

Shai Reshef is the President of University of the People (UoPeople)—the world’s first tuition-free, non-profit, accredited online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education. Grounded in the belief that knowledge is a key ingredient of world peace, UoPeople provides access to collegiate-level studies to qualified individuals regardless of geographic, financial or societal constraints.

An educational entrepreneur, Reshef has over 25 years of experience in the international education market. From 1989 to 2005, he served as Chairman of the Kidum Group, a for-profit educational services company. Between 2001 and 2004, Reshef also chaired KIT eLearning, the online learning partner of the University of Liverpool and the first online university outside of the United States.

Reshef has been widely recognized for his work with UoPeople, including being named one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business; selected by OneWorld as one of its ‘People of 2009;’awarded an Ashoka fellowship; joined UN-GAID as a High-level Adviser; granted membership in the Clinton Global Initiative; presented at TED; granted an RSA Fellowship; selected by The Huffington Post as the Ultimate Game Changer in Education; nominated as one of Wired Magazine’s 50 People Changing the World; and selected as a Top Global Thinker by Foreign Policy Magazine. Global media coverage includes the New York Times, Washington Post, Chronicle of Higher Education, NPR, Forbes and more.

Professor Michael Arthur is the President & Provost of UCL and is the first clinical academic to hold this position in the history of the university. Prior to this, he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds (2004–2013) where he is credited with guiding that large comprehensive university to academic excellence in research, innovation and student education, reaching a clear position amongst the top 100 universities in the world (QS ranking).

He is formerly Professor of Medicine (1992–2004), Head of the School of Medicine (1998–2001) and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences in Southampton (2003–2004). During his tenure the Medical School achieved major growth in its research profile with excellent results in the Research Assessment Exercise 2001 and a maximum score (24/24 points) in the Quality Assurance Exercise of Medical Education.

Professor Arthur was a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York (2002) working in Scott Friedman’s laboratory. He was awarded the Linacre medal of the Royal College of Physicians in 1994 and became a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998.

Professor Arthur has a significant national and international profile in higher education as well as medicine. He was Chair of the Advisory Group for National Specialised Services for the Department of Health (2010–2013) and a former Chair of both the Worldwide Universities Network and the Russell Group of Universities. He is a former Member of the Medical Research Council Member (2008–2014) and a former US/UK Fulbright Commissioner.

Andrew Hamilton was named the 16th president of New York University—one of the largest and foremost private universities in the US—in March 2015. He officially took up his duties as NYU’s president on January 1, 2016.  Hamilton has an acclaimed record of success as a leader in higher education and is a noted scientist.

Most recently, Dr. Hamilton served as the vice chancellor of Oxford University—the university’s senior officer—a post he held since 2009, and as professor of chemistry at Oxford. His tenure as vice chancellor was distinguished by significant improvements in university governance and faculty relations; the launch of a new School of Government and the expansion of the business school; the enhancement of interdisciplinary research and teaching; the restructuring of Oxford’s medical school and hospital into a modern academic medical center; the improvement of the university’s physical infrastructure, including the renovation of some the university’s oldest and most venerated libraries and museums; a significant expansion of fundraising, including nine-figure major gifts and a focus on raising student financial aid to diversify Oxford’s student body; and modernization of the school’s financial system, among other initiatives.

Before being named as Oxford’s vice chancellor, Dr. Hamilton served as provost (2004–08) of Yale University; he had previously been Yale’s deputy provost for science and technology. His period as Yale’s provost was marked by significant growth and strengthening of the sciences, the restoration of the school of engineering and applied sciences, increased faculty recruitment of women and under-represented minorities, interdisciplinary initiatives in the sciences and the humanities, and a major update of Yale’s undergraduate curriculum.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the recipient of the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society, and the winner of the International Izatt-Christiansen Award for Macrocyclic Chemistry.  He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the University of Surrey, Tsinghua University, and the University of Exeter, among others.

Professor Daphne Koller is co-founder of Coursera.  She joined the faculty at Stanford University in 1995, where she is now the Rajeev Motwani Professor in the School of Engineering. Her main research interest is in developing and using machine learning and probabilistic methods to model and analyze complex domains. Her current research projects span computational biology, computational medicine, and semantic understanding of the physical world from sensor data. She is the author of over 200 refereed publications, which have appeared in venues that range from Science to numerous conferences and journals in AI and Computer Science. She has given keynote talks at over 10 different major conferences, also spanning a variety of areas. She was awarded the Arthur Samuel Thesis Award in 1994, the Sloan Foundation Faculty Fellowship in 1996, the ONR Young Investigator Award in 1998, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 1999, the IJCAI Computers and Thought Award in 2001, the Cox Medal for excellence in fostering undergraduate research at Stanford in 2003, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2004, the ACM/Infosys award in 2008, and was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 2011.

Daphne Koller is the founder and leader of CURIS, Stanford’s summer research experience for undergraduates in computer science – a program that has trained more than 500 students in its decade of existence. In 2010, she initiated and piloted, in her Stanford class, the online education model that has led to the formation of the online courses that are being offered by Stanford to the general public.

Irina Bokova has been the Director-General of UNESCO since 15 November 2009, and was successfully reelected for a second term in 2013. She is the first woman and the first Eastern European to lead the Organization.

As Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova is actively engaged in international efforts to advance gender equality, quality education for all, and combat terrorist financing by preventing the illicit traffic of cultural goods. A leading champion in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, Bokova has spearheaded UNESCO’s activities on Holocaust remembrance and awareness and is the first Director-General of the Organization to appoint a Special Envoy for Holocaust Education.

Having graduated from Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and studied at the University of Maryland (Washington) and the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University), Irina Bokova joined the United Nations Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria in 1977. In charge of political and legal affairs at the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations in New York, she was also member of the Bulgarian Delegation at the United Nations conferences on the equality of women in Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995). As Member of Parliament (1990-1991 and 2001-2005), she advocated for Bulgaria’s membership in EU and NATO and participated in the drafting of Bulgaria’s new Constitution.

Irina Bokova was Minister for Foreign Affairs a.i., Coordinator of Bulgaria-European Union relations and Ambassador of Bulgaria to France, Monaco and UNESCO and Personal Representative of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria to the “Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie” (OIF). As Secretary of the Council of Ministers for European Integration and as Foreign Minister a.i., Irina Bokova has always advocated for European integration. She is a founding member and Chairman of the European Policy Forum, an NGO created to promote European identity and encourage dialogue to overcome divisions in Europe. Irina Bokova is Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee of the UN Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) and co-Vice-Chair of the Broadband Commission.[/bios]

Q: What is the purpose of education in society?

[Sal Khan] Education equips people to participate in society economically, democratically, socially and culturally.

[Bunker Roy] I like What Mark Twain said, “Never Let School Interfere with your Education.” The purpose of Education is to make you think differently and give you the courage and confidence to act. School is where you learn how to read and write. Education is what you receive from your family, your community and your environment. The purpose of education is to give you the ability and intelligence to make out the fundamental difference between right and wrong, good and bad, rich and poor.

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Understanding the purpose of education in society is an interesting question.

Education is about helping people lead a good life.  Getting a career and a good job is part of leading a productive and good life, so therefore the goal of education is to give people the tools, skills and preparation to lead a good and successful life.

However, there is a disconnect.  I have seen surveys from the World University Rankings that show that 70 percent of international students feel that they’re getting an education to get a job.  Universities however, think about education as preparing people for life.

My belief is that getting a job and a career is a part of life, and therefore part of the role of education.

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] Education enables individuals to enjoy their lives, fulfil their potential and earn a living in society.

Any definition more nuanced than this would bias something which is holistic in nature.

[Professor M. Aslam] Before we ponder over the purpose of education, we need to be clear about what it means. Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary (1961) defines education in the following words:

bringing up or training, as of a child: instruction: strengthening of the powers of body or mind: culture.”

With this meaning in view, it should be obvious that the purpose of education cannot be a given constant. It has to be dynamic, ever evolving symbiotically with the evolution of human society. Among the primitives, the purpose of education was to provide the progeny with life-skills for survival; with the evolution of secluded tribal and sectarian societies, the purpose of education came to be the propagation of a particular line of thought together with the corresponding way of life; and with the rise of   liberalism, the purpose of education shifted to the study of man (human society) with a focus on enlightenment and embellishment. Further down the path of development, with the rise of sciences, the purpose of education for the society came to be the study of nature, its components and the surrounding environment. As sciences led to technology, the purpose of education shifted once again—now it was to impart skills and know-how in relation to the application of sciences for socio-economic purposes. More recently, with not only a more evolved appreciation for, but also a stronger need felt for a much more humane society (in spite of the conflicts across the globe), the purpose of education has diversified significantly—sustained economic growth, better quality of life, uplifting the needy, push for socio-economic equity, extensive reach, exploration in diverse realms, global mutual understanding and the like.

As indicated above, today the institution of education is in a state of multidimensional flux, which needs to be studied critically as well as objectively. As different countries and regions follow differing systems of education, the said studies need to be country specific as well as comparative in order to reach conclusions and develop systems that suit the respective countries and differing situations in line with global changes and development. In terms of its clientele, education is now   expected to reach and address each and any age group—freshers, drop outs, working classes of all hues, retired people and so on. As education is now seen as a fundamental human ‘right’, its purpose is to provide for the growth, development and sustenance of the ‘learning society’. Accordingly, its content, delivery and processes of evaluation have to be learner-centred. The traditional constraints in terms of the locale of education, its duration and the pace of its delivery require to be revisited and modified in view of the societal needs in line with learners’ motivations. Further, the unprecedented developments in the information and communication technologies need to be harnessed to match the expanding demand for education, to develop new socially relevant and   multidisciplinary content, and to reach the unreached. It is important that we perceive and understand the full implications of this latest innovative force manifested through ICT applications and the related motivational thrust (exemplified by OER), both of which are unfolding and driving ahead inexorably. However the success of the system will  depend upon  the men/women behind it!

[Professor Shai Reshef] I believe that access to higher education serves as a key ingredient in the promotion of world peace and global economic development. Education can both transform the lives of individuals and be an important force for societal change. Education serves to strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in promoting understanding and tolerance.

Q: How does education contribute to human, social and economic development?

[Irina Bokova] Education is a fundamental right and the basis for progress and shared prosperity in every country. This was the thrust of all our advocacy in shaping the 2030 Agenda, including through the Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative that is coordinated by UNESCO. The ambition was to raise the profile of education on national and international policy agendas, demonstrate the centrality of education for each and every development goal, and secure a full-fledged and comprehensive goal on education that went beyond the MDG vision – and this we achieved.

Education is transformative, with catalytic impacts on health, well-being and livelihoods. Provided it is relevant and of good quality, education not only gives people the knowledge and skills – both cognitive and non-cognitive – they need to find decent work, and benefit from the full range of opportunities life has to offer, but it can also help shape attitudes, values, and eventually behaviours. As individuals, we need information about health and nutrition, so we can give our children the start in life they deserve. UNESCO analysis, for instance, has shown that providing all women with a primary education would reduce child marriages and child mortality by one sixth, and maternal deaths by two-thirds. The impact at secondary level is all the more staggering, with a 64% reduction in child marriages and close to 50% fewer child deaths.

As countries, our prosperity depends on empowered literate adults and skilled and educated workers. At a global level, progress in conquering poverty and combatting climate change will not happen without supportive and appropriately designed education systems that bring in new ideas, and new solutions for protecting our ecosystems and challenging injustice.

Q: Why is it so important to deliver universal access to education?

[Professor Daphne Koller] Education is the great enabler; it allows people to access opportunities that they otherwise would not have.  If you look at the problems that ail many countries around the globe — poverty, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, extremism —once you stratify by educational attainment, you find that those problems (at the higher education level) largely diminish, even after you correct for socio-economic status.

Education is an amazing way to give people the opportunity for a much better life.

Q: What are the challenges in the delivery of education to society?

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Education is a right, but unfortunately in most countries it’s either very expensive, poor quality, or it is accessible only to a few.  In the United States, you can get a quality education but it’s very expensive.  In India, you have a quality education, very inexpensively throughout… however to get into one of the of the top institutions such as IIT and IIM, you have to be in a subset of the top 1 percent of students to stand a chance of getting in!

For something that is a basic human right, education is either too-expensive, inaccessible or simply poor quality.

[Irina Bokova] Education systems face new challenges all the time, and require us to consistently reassess to ensure we’re responding to the diverse needs of all students and learners. We must not lose sight of the most fundamental challenge, namely reaching the 59 million children of primary age who are not in school, and close to the same number at secondary. We need a specific focus on gender because girls are still most at risk of exclusion or of dropping out due to multiple factors, from family poverty to concerns over safety to socio-cultural barriers.

Conflict is taking arguably the largest toll, with over a third of the world’s out-of-school children residing in conflict-affected countries. Conflict often completely destroys education systems, like that in Syria in its wake, requiring years of progress to be started again from scratch. Similarly, a lack of resources leaves education plans without finance, and contributes to persistent inequalities in education and adult literacy because governments are unable to go the extra mile to break them down. Then, we have the challenge of quality – making education fit for purpose in the 21st century. Finally, we have the sheer financial challenge. Our analysis last year showed there to be a $39 billion annual finance gap for countries to reach the new global education goal contained within the Sustainable Development Agenda. Talk of policies, and ambition will mean little if we cannot find the funds to fill this gaping hole.

Q: What are the outcomes for a society where education is not delivered?

[Bunker Roy] The education being delivered today is directionless, dangerously incomplete, devoid of creativity and packaged to suit a sick society that does not value compassion, tolerance and equality. In rural India (better we call it Bharat) where very poor quality stereotyped education is in the place there are thousands of primary schools with no roofs, no class rooms, no blackboards, no teaching aids, no relevant curriculum and no properly trained teachers. The outcomes are boys and girls who are frustrated, angry at society at large because they have no jobs and they take their anger out with violence and anti social activities. Their realities are they have little or no choices. They are stuck in a rut they see no way out of because they have been given up as a lost cause.

Q: How can education transform outcomes?

[Bunker Roy] Education has to be more practical than theoretical. At a very early age they should be exposed to a skill they could use to be useful to society they have agreed to live and work in. In Bharat there are so many choices. So long as we manage to keep the needs of the society in mind it should not be difficult to identify the simple needs and match it with the practical skills available. If the skills need to be upgraded or made more relevant they could be brought into rural society from “outside”. It’s been done. We only need to re-define what we mean and expect from education.

Q: What are the impacts of poor education to societies?

[Irina Bokova] Today tens of millions of children and youth are leaving school without basic skills because of the poor quality of learning at primary and secondary level.  Our flagship Global Education Monitoring Report has estimated that 250 million children are unable to read, write and count even after four years in school. This comes at a heavy cost, with a negative impact both on learners and society at large. There is evidence that cognitive achievement and basic skill acquisition influence the pace with which societies become more prosperous and the degree to which individuals can improve their income. Education needs to be of good quality to allow learners to reach their full potential in terms of not only cognitive, but also emotional and creative capacities. The provision of good quality education is instrumental to helping children develop creatively and emotionally. It helps children to acquire the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes required by all people to lead fulfilled lives, make informed decisions and become responsible citizens as well as active agents of change locally and globally. This is why it is so important to focus on teachers, their training and professional development together with good curricula and assessment to make sure that all children and adolescents learn.

Q: How can education impact social problems?

[Bunker Roy] Where is it written that just because someone has never been through school and college or never been “certified” they cannot be a solar and water engineer, designer, mass communicator, health worker, teacher. We are great believers in the illiterate educated because they combine practical skills with compassion and spiritual tolerance. They are role models and highly respected in their own society as change agents. They have transcended the boundaries of caste, class, sex and religion. Together they have performed miracles very quietly, non violently and with great dignity. They have solved social problems. They have tried and succeeded to meet the basic needs of their own communities- drinking water, education, lighting, providing work through marketing of handicrafts.

What have the barefoot engineers, teachers, designers, communicators accomplished?

  1. Drinking water:
  • 5 million people have access to safe drinking water in the cold deserts of Ladakh (Kashmir) and the hot deserts of Rajasthan through over 3,000 hand pumps installed:
  • 1 million people benefit from the 1,000 hand pump mechanics repairing hand pumps in 764 villages in 7 States of India
  • 10 billion litres of rain water collected from the roofs of schools of 1600 schools spread all 900 villages in 18 Indian States over the country so that 500,000 children have access to drinking water and sanitation
  • 30 billion litres of rain water collected in 24 small dams revitalizing 130 village tanks and 1500 hand pumps so women and children have access to clean water close to their homes and don’t have to walk for 5 kms for 10 litres of drinking water

2. Health, Education and  Advocacy:

  • Since 2004 over 250 barefoot doctors, 650 traditional midwives, 15 barefoot pathologists, women dentists, water chemists, surveyors, women solar cooker engineers, communicators, computer operators have reached 1.8 million people.
  • 850 villages have solar lit night schools with 3,140 barefoot teachers reaching 25,000 children who are going to school for the first time because they have to fetch firewood and water and cannot go to school in the day.
  • Over 900 traditional communicators- street theatre, puppet shows at night sharing powerful social themes reaching over 100,000 people in remote villages where there is no television and no newspapers.

3. Rural Livelihoods

  • Provide employment and outlets to 1850 rural artesans- weavers, leather workers, handicrafts,- through the barefoot shop. Earnings over $ 200,000. All paid through cheques so that the women learn how to read and write to take the money out.
  • Provide employment to 800 barefoot architects trained to design and construct low cost houses, training centres, school buildings, toilets, rain water harvesting tanks, geodesic domes.
  • 160 physically challenged men and women are gainfully employed producing toys for sale, sanitary napkins, solar cookers, running a community radio, organizing puppets shows. They reach over 150,000 people

Today over 700 illiterate rural women who have never left their villages in their lives have come for 6 months to the Barefoot College in India and trained to be competent solar engineers. They have come from 78 of the Least Developed Countries. They have come from the Continent of Africa (36 countries): South East Asia, South America, Middle East and the Pacific Islands.

Just by providing clean light the lives of over 500,000 men, women and children living in the remotest and most inaccessible communities in the world have changed for the better. Children can study at night. Women can cook outside free of smoke. Houses are for the first time free of rats, snakes and scorpions.

Q: Why must we focus on an ‘equitable’ education?

[Irina Bokova] We have learned important lessons from the MDGs: first the risks of focusing on access at the expense of quality; second on the importance of placing equity as a central policy measure. Education is a right; all children, youth and adults deserve to benefit from it, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, residence or disability status. Ignoring this right for vast swathes of the population means that we cannot expect education to enable societies to escape poverty or live inclusively and sustainably. Analysis by the Global Education Monitoring Report has shown that, if inequalities in education in sub-Saharan Africa had been halved, the annual per capita growth rate over 2005-2010 would have been almost twice as fast.

Closing persistent gender gaps in education can also mean the difference between eradicating childhood and maternal mortality because maternal education is one of the greatest sparks for improvements in health. Similarly, broader goals to achieve gender equality require policy makers to work hard to reduce gender gaps in education in order to overcome discrimination. Ultimately, closing these gaps will also improve the living conditions of their children and strengthen society.  Lastly, education inequalities increase the chance of conflict, as persistent grievances and frustrations remain unmet. There can be no excuse for not doing all we can to close these gaps over the next fifteen years. The fact that there is an explicit target on equity in SDG4 will contribute to integrating this dimension in all education policies.

Q: How do you deliver a great education to all?

[Professor M. Aslam] Generally, by tradition the quality of university education has not been in question. There were clearly identifiable factors which were supposed to ensure it—adequate infrastructure, quality faculty, entrance standards, duration of studies, course content, delivery modalities and assessment schema. With the changing times, proliferation of and competition among higher education institutions and the advent of open distance modalities the issue of quality in the educational enterprise came to the fore. Steadily, other factors relevant to the issue of quality in education started emerging—the systemic factors like curriculum design, course materials, monitoring of educational transactions or learner support services; the philosophic factors like the level of access and equity provided, socio-economic relevance of courses and the like; and the pedagogic factors like the respective levels of attention given to cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. Apart from these factors, a professional view of standards, and so of quality in education, came to be measured in terms of the degree of fitness of a content together with the related educational transactions for the defined purpose of the said content and transaction.

Over time these loose strands of concerns and the related solutions have evolved into a two level accreditation system, which as on date is understood to ensure quality education for one and all. The first level comprises internal assessment, which in itself comprises three stages—i) self-assessment (of individual academics outputs), ii) departmental assessment and iii) institutional assessment. And the second level comprises external assessment conducted by a recognized Accreditation Body. As of now, it is a reasonably dependable approach for providing quality education to all the concerned. Following this approach, many countries in the West are providing quality education successfully. India too has introduced the system in parts, but it has a long way to go. The key factor to operate the system successfully comprises the men/women behind it!

[Irina Bokova] Defining quality is a challenging task, involving questions of curriculum, pedagogy, culture and, crucially, the skills of teachers. Defining the word ‘quality’ in operational terms is one of the many tasks being undertaken at the moment by those working on explaining how progress towards each of the new goals in the education agenda is going to be measured and monitored.  It will likely include looking at baseline education levels and specific skills per grade level. Lessons from the last fifteen years have taught us that getting children into school is not enough; the conditions that enable them to learn well while there, are just as – if not more – important. We need quality education in tune with the needs of society, with the future of the planet, relevant to markets and that promotes global citizenship. Linked to the above question on equity, we should always highlight that the best performing systems are the ones that are the most inclusive and the most equitable.

Q: Why does lifelong learning matter?

[Irina Bokova] Lifelong learning reflects the need for all of us to learn throughout our lives, from cradle to grave, not just in planned and qualification granting programmes in formal education systems, but also in a wide range of non-formal education, from on-the-job training and professional development to adult education and second chance programmes. Gaining access to formal education, while critical, is not enough. Lifelong learning challenges countries to provide opportunities for people to acquire foundational skills and to use, improve and retain other outcomes of learning. The new global education agenda specifies lifelong learning to widen the focus on skills development in school and work to learning that promotes citizenship, resilience, empathy, tolerance and knowledge about sustainability. The outcomes of education need to encompass more than just those needed for economic development, but also those that can bring innovation and solutions for environmental sustainability, poverty reduction, social solidarity as well as sustainable urban development and global citizenship.

Q: Who are the key stakeholders in the delivery of education to society?

[Irina Bokova] Governments have the primary responsibility to deliver on the right to education. The State’s role is crucial in regulating standards, providing quality education and reducing disparities between regions, communities and schools. Civil society organizations can raise public awareness, ensure that citizens’ voices are heard in policy development, develop innovative and complementary approaches to deliver education and hold governments accountable. The private sector, philanthropic organizations and foundations can also play important roles – for example, using their experience, innovative approaches, business expertise and financial resources to strengthen access to, completion of and learning in public education. They can contribute to education and development through multi-stakeholder partnerships, investment and contributions that are transparent, aligned with local and national priorities, enhance respect for education as a human right and help reduce inequality. At the 2015 World Education Forum, Member States and the entire global education community agreed to ‘ensure the provision of 12 years of free, publicly funded, equitable quality primary and secondary education, of which at least nine years are compulsory, leading to relevant learning outcomes.’ This target lies at the heart of the right to education for all and should not be undermined through privatisation. Teachers and educators, the research community and youth organizations are also crucial partners in the delivery and reform of education.

Q: What is the ‘purpose’ of a university?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] On the one hand, society needs to educate people to take-up certain professions such as vets, doctors and so forth… but in a general context, it’s important to provide knowledge for people… not aimed at specific professions, on a wide and inclusive basis.

The research part of universities is very important; this is the basis of the creation of the new knowledge that drives society forward.

[Professor Lino Guzzella] As a public entity, ETH Zurich bears a responsibility to:

1) Educate young people, preparing them for professional or scientific careers,

2) Carry out curiosity-driven fundamental and applied research, and

3) Transfer knowledge, insight, and innovative solutions to meet the needs of society and the economy.

[Bunker Roy] The role of a College or University is to change mindsets. It is to change perception and attitudes by setting an example. The formal system makes you look down on the village. After graduating anyone who goes back to the village is looked on as a failure. The formal system does not make you look back to respect and value your roots if they are in the rural areas. So people with degrees and qualifications would rather survive in demeaning city slums and pavements than go back to their roots. The response also is There is no work there so why go back?

The formal system demeans and devalues traditional knowledge, village skills and practical wisdom that the poor value, respect and apply for their own development. Just because it is not “certified” does that mean it is inferior or second rate? The fact is it has stood the test of time and the knowledge and skills were used for hundreds of years well before the urban doctor, teacher and engineer turned up in the villages.

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] To understand the role universities play one must first understand the context of the time and place; for example is it a developing or developed country? Who is the student? Who is the university?

Ancient Buddhist universities in present-day Pakistan and India for example, were about philosophy, science and to some extent religion (though that was baked-in with the sciences in those times).
In todays developing world very few have the luxury of learning simply for the sake of learning.  You have to be more focussed on employment.  In the developed world, education becomes more general – the aim is to create a well-rounded individual.

As the cost of university increases to society and the individual, and as the opportunity costs increase, we are becoming more careful about providing value to the individual immediately through universities.

[Professor M. Aslam] Here we don’t have to make any reference to the ancient Indian universities like Nalanda or Texishila. Instead, today we associate the purpose of a university with the ideas and activities that have evolved over the past about 1000 years—the first university of the type we are talking about was established in Spain about a thousand years ago. Generally, a university is understood to serve three distinct purposes:

  1. storing knowledge (as a repository of knowledge ),
  2. creating knowledge (as a research organization/agency), and
  3. imparting knowledge (as a teaching and training organization).

Today, however, in line with the flux referred to in the answer to the 2nd Question above, the purpose/function of a university is diversifying in its domain and extending in its meaning. For the overall socio-economic growth and development of societies, skills (hands on and others) are emerging to be as important as knowledge as the standard concern of universities. The jurisdictional function of universities is extending as cross-border and trans-modal teaching-learning   operations have   become a reality—thanks to ever growing information and communication technologies. New socio-economic functions of universities are emerging as they peer more and more into the needs of the job-market, align more and more with industries and agriculture, and open up to new concerns like the environment, globalization, etc.  Further, universities are now expected (in whatever way) to contribute to universal peace and harmony, eradication of poverty and disease and the general health of environment.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] I ask our Governors to read a book called What are Universities For?’ by Stefan Collini, which covers the history and value of universities.  While I don’t agree with everything in the book, I absolutely agree with his conclusion, that universities are for ‘public good.

The public good of universities is primarily discovery and its applications, and education; but universities also play other very important roles.  They are big drivers of economy, particularly in areas like Manchester where we [the University of Manchester] work very closely with the City Council, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and where we’re a key part of the devolution process in skills.

Universities can also exist above or beyond the boundaries of a political landscape, and that matters.  I always give the example here of collaboration between Palestinian and Israeli academics.  They collaborate academically irrespective of the politics.  This autonomy and independence which universities have is extremely important.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] I would characterise the core purposes of a university today as being three-fold: To nurture graduates who are future ready, i.e., to excite and prepare young people for the opportunities and challenges of a fast moving future; to develop and grow a vital Brain-Trust of talent with cutting-edge expertise across a broad range of fields, and interest in creating wider societal impact through their work; and to contribute to economic, health and societal advancement.

The university comprises a dynamic community of talented faculty and researchers working individually, in small groups or large multi-programme centres, in different disciplines. Much of the research is driven by curiosity but with an alertness to the possibilities of useful translation and application.

Such a community is a Brain Trust in several ways:

First, it provides the broad base from which different types of experts can be brought together, often in partnership with other academic institutions, industry and/or the public sector, to work on solutions to important problems.

Second, the basic research expertise which it maintains (including those deemed unfashionable) may prove, sometimes unexpectedly, to be of great value for industry or society. For example, the Economist magazine (April 2016) noted that the field of artificial intelligence was “largely ignored and underfunded” in the 1980s and 1990s, but now is in extremely hot demand by technology companies and academia.

Third, this community of experts has extensive networks with top academics around the world, whose expertise could be tapped on through collaborations.

Fourth, a dynamic academic community attracts excellent and ambitious students, who significantly amplify its impact.

[Professor Shai Reshef] I believe that universities should be about providing equal opportunity, community and quality education in order to educate as well as shape the next generation of socially-conscious, global citizens.

That’s exactly what we do at UoPeople.

Opportunity: Offering a quality education at an affordable cost to students is what University of the People is doing to increase opportunities for people. We aim to open the gates of higher education to qualified students anywhere in the world by offering programs through distance learning and by making this opportunity affordable.

Community: Universities should be about community. UoPeople prepares its students for the global village by making its academic programs, educational services, and employment opportunities available to qualified individuals from all over the world, and by providing learning opportunities that engage students and faculty from diverse backgrounds.

Quality: UoPeople provides a high-quality, online liberal arts education suitable in scope and depth to the challenges of the 21st century, simultaneously preparing students for the workforce as well as developing well-rounded individuals who are able to learn from and respect the perspectives of others.

[Professor Michael Arthur] Universities exist to advance knowledge and to create graduates for the betterment and advancement of society; or to put it another way, we create new knowledge and produce people of high intellectual quality, capable of critical thinking, who can help to advance and improve the society they come from.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] The fundamental purpose of a university is quite simple; the creation of knowledge through research, the dissemination of knowledge through teaching and the preservation of knowledge through libraries, museums and other forms of curation.

When one looks at the purpose of a university in this way? the benefits to society are manifold. 

Q: What makes a great university?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] Successful universities need independence, this is critical.  Assuming this is in-place, the next most important factor is the recruitment of professors, scientists and students.  If you have excellent teachers, you will have excellent students!

Recruitment cannot be over-emphasised; universities are only as good as their people.

The interactions between these people are critical too, albeit one must be careful to not spend too much time interacting and not enough on science!  You have to find ways of giving people enough time to do their research, yet encourage the types of interactions that will boost the scientific effort.

I believe we can only benefit by encouraging the collaboration of people from different backgrounds, mathematics, medicine, computer science, physics and more.  These interactions are hugely fruitful, and often result in our greatest advances. 

[Professor Lino Guzzella] It takes talented people, with solid values, time, autonomy, and stable funding to create a great university. These elements allow leadership, professors, researchers, students, and staff to focus on quality.  Quality is central to everything we do at ETH Zurich. We focus on excellence in teaching and foster a strong culture of autonomy and trust.

The doors to a great university also need to be open. Our professors are leading world experts in their fields and attracted talented and motivated students. We value diversity and maintain an international outlook – 37% of our students and nearly 70% of our professors come from outside of Switzerland. We find that when we give our professors time to thrive and trust in their abilities, they eventually yield research results that beneficially impact society.

[Professor M. Aslam] There is no mystery about this issue. All the well known great universities the world over (especially in the West) are deemed so on the bases of well established criteria (applied domain wise) and evaluation practices. Year after year, universities are evaluated on the basis of these criteria and ranked according to their scores. It is these scores/ranks that highlight the status of institutions like Stanford University, Yale University, MIT, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon University, Oxford University or Cambridge University.  It does not require one to make any wild guesses regarding what these criteria or evaluation practices may be—they are freely available on the Internet for scrutiny, analysis or whatever.  India, has recently put its National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) programme in place. Currently the NIRF is in the process of evaluating 100 higher educational institutions each in engineering, management, universities and pharmacy categories.

The more crucial question is as to how do these institutions maintain their ranking, while others fail to move up the ladder. Again the answer is straight forward—they succeed in doing so, as they constantly strive to maintain a high degree of fitness of their curricula and the related pedagogic transactions for purposes defined in terms of the aims and objectives of their educational programmes and thrusts.

The derived most crucial question is as to how do they maintain this high degree of fitness. The answer lies, more than anything else, in their human resources. Funding has a role to play, but nothing to match the contribution of the human resources available and functioning at these universities.  To sum up, highly and appropriately qualified staff working selflessly with commitment and dedication makes a university great, or put differently, makes a great university.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] Defining ‘what’ makes a university great is not easy.  Of course, we all use international rankings and league tables… which most university presidents treat with some scepticism as they only measure certain aspects of an institution!  Malcolm Grant, the former leader of University College London (UCL) said ranking universities is somewhat like ranking cities of the world as being ‘best to live in,’ it’s rather subjective, and very dependent on ‘what’ it is that you want.   Do you (as an individual) want a big city or a small one? Do you want coastal or rural? Do you want old or modern?

The universities that consistently are seen as successful do however, have some shared characteristics.  They are often the ones who identify their core roles and distinctiveness well.  Some wouldn’t be on international league-tables by research standing, but could be outstandingly good at engaging with industry.  Cranfield for example wouldn’t appear on the research league-tables but is internationally renowned for its close links with industry.   Some other universities may for example, be very well known for sports, but they are common in their pursuit of that core-value, ‘delivering public good.

The University of Manchester is particularly noted for our partnerships.  People come to the university and often comment on having heard the term, ‘the Manchester family,’ relating to our close working relationships with the Hospitals, City Council, transport, airport and so on.  Even our relationship with Manchester Metropolitan University is unusual, we are quite different institutions but work together very closely.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] A ‘great’ university has a critical mass of faculty of a size and quality that truly stands out. It has many faculty who are clearly among the leaders in their respective fields, and an energising academic environment which attracts and inspires very talented students and young academics, hones their intellectual abilities and uncovers their broader potential. Its alumni and faculty are influential in leadership or contribution in a range of sectors and have a strong positive impact nationally and globally.

I believe that a great university should also be highly innovative. This should include pioneering fresh approaches and models of education that enhance learning, and driving the growth of innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems.  A ‘great’ university should also create distinctive value at a consequential global level. At NUS, for example, we wish to make significant global contributions and impact through the translation of our cutting-edge research into important economic, health and/or societal benefits.

We can discern the general trends and issues that are likely to impact the future such as climate change, rapidly ageing societies in many countries including Singapore, the need for health system transformation, the growing impact of technology (both positive and negative), etc.

However, we cannot predict the specific research areas and discoveries, or the exact skill sets that will provide major advances and/or solutions in the longer-term.

In education, an important question that needs regular revisiting, is what are the “general skills and qualities” that will help graduates succeed and contribute regardless of the sector of work or the nature of the issues they will be addressing.

It seems to us that these should currently include the ability to work complex things out from first principles; effective communications; strong personal, interpersonal and cross-cultural skills; and the interest and ability to learn continually across disciplines. Each of these categories entail additional key questions that need to be worked through, e.g., what foundations should be laid at university to enable someone to learn and re-skill effectively in many different sectors over the lifetime of their careers?  In addition, for students in less quantitative courses of study, sufficient exposure to quantitative reasoning and technology literacy is increasingly important.

In NUS, we are complementing the development of “general skills” with academic programmes, project work and internships that enable students to gain specific skills relevant to more particular work choices. I should note that the two are not exclusive in that a focus on mastery of specific skills is also often helpful for the enhancement of more general skills.

[Professor Michael Arthur] To be a great university takes patience, persistence and academic excellence against a value-set that really does promote academic and intellectual freedom.  Great universities give people the opportunity to develop themselves, work together and to try interesting and open pieces of research.

We have to keep the relationship between research and education very clear in our minds.  We cannot let the assessment and regulatory processes pull these things apart, keeping them together results in great progress.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] Great universities have a commitment to excellence, and selectivity- be that in students admitted or faculty recruited.

Many universities have been very highly regarded but have, over time, declined, and no longer play the role at the intellectual forefront they may have done in the past.   For universities to be world-renound and world-regarded, they have to be willing to constantly change and redefine themselves.   Even though many may look at Oxford and NYU for example, as institutions with great reverence for tradition and history – they are both universities that are constantly changing, redefining themselves, investing in new facilities and building new programmes.  In the past couple of decades, NYU has grown an international dimension, with a number of sites in Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Accra and several others.

A critical part of continued success for a university is the constant-willing to change and make itself relevant to the time it’s passing through.  In Oxford that might be the 14th century, or the 21st century.  At NYU, we’re making ourselves relevant for the global economy, and helping students prepare for a world where they will need to be familiar with different cultures… different ways of thinking… different ways of doing business and working.

Universities must keep changing to stay alive.

Q: What is ‘broken’ about our current university system?

[President Shai Reshef] First and foremost, unfortunately, the current higher education system is failing millions of potential students—millions who graduate from high school, millions who are qualified for higher education, millions who want to study yet cannot access higher education for various reasons.

The first reason is financial. Colleges and universities are expensive. In large parts of the world, higher education is unattainable for the average citizen. Higher education is not a right for all but is, rather, a privilege for the few. This needs to change around. The second reason is availability. UNESCO has stated that by 2025, approximately 100 million students will be deprived of higher education simply because there will not be enough seats to accommodate them, to meet the demand. They will take a placement test, they will pass the test, but they still won’t have access because there are no places available. The third reason is cultural. Many students who are qualified for and can afford higher education, who want to study, often cannot because of cultural or social reasons; higher education is not a “decent” place for them, because of their race, their gender, their legal status, or what have you. This is the story for countless women, for example, in several countries, who are prevented from higher education because of cultural barriers. The fourth reason is political. Look at refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented students – many of them face barriers in accessing higher education due to lack of formal documentation. The fifth reason is personal. In some parts of the world, simply being disabled prevents one from accessible higher education. These are primarily the reasons why I founded University of the People – the first tuition-free, accredited, online university, dedicated to opening the gates to higher education globally to all qualified students, regardless of financial, geographic or socio-cultural constraints.

Q: How do universities contribute to the economies of their city, region and country?

[Professor Lino Guzzella]  As a publically funded entity in Switzerland, ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, bears a responsibility to transfer knowledge to society. This is a mandate that we take seriously. We feel our most valuable contribution is the people that we educate, including the approximately: 60% of all electrical and mechanical engineers, half of the country’s civil engineers and architects, and 25% of all natural scientists in Switzerland Many C-level positions in Swiss enterprises are also graduates of ETH Zurich.

[Professor M. Aslam] The contribution of universities to their respective cities, regions and countries may broadly be seen in a spectrum of micro to macro level economic benefits. Looking back at university towns/cities like Aligarh, Banaras or Oxford, a clear inference is that such cities grow in size, commerce and well-being—first by the influx of students from different parts of the respective countries, and then by the growth of the infrastructure and the corresponding economic activity required to support the new and diverse additions to the local populations. Besides, it has been customary for universities to provide special facilities and provisions to local student populations.

Such economic benefits, however, could not be bottled up in the city concerned—they find their way into the far flung areas within the region. Think of the Punjab University in pre-partition India. Situated at Lahore, it catered to the whole of undivided Punjab, Sindh, Blouchistan, Jammu & Kashmir and parts of the present day Himachal Pradesh. Lahore rose to be the educational metropolis in the north-west of the sub-continent, while the whole region experienced benefits in measures proportionate to the size of populations from each area that obtained their education from the university. Most of the teachers, civil servants, medical and engineering personnel working in Jammu & Kashmir state till the end of 1950s were the alumnae of the then Punjab University. Extending the same logic, it should be clear how a country benefits from the presence and operations of a university within its borders.

The straight forward fact is that a university produces knowledgeable and skilled human resources which, over and above the natural resources available, constitute the fundamental and primary drivers and catalysts of the economy of a country. The importance of human resources for the purpose of economic development may best be epitomised within the concerns caused by the so called “brain drain”, which scares every country invariably.  Apart from the production of human resources, universities engage in research, which builds for and provides unorthodox bases and resources for economic growth, development and sustenance.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] The most important thing that universities do, in this regard, is to nurture excellent graduates who can contribute in different ways to economic and societal advancement.

In the case of NUS, this includes a distinct focus on growing a larger cadre of highly entrepreneurial students and graduates who can help drive Singapore’s growing innovation ecosystem.

There are also rising expectations for universities to contribute more to enhancing national growth and competitiveness, promote entrepreneurship and innovation, and address major societal challenges.

NUS, for instance, is a key and active contributor to Singapore’s research and innovation ecosystem. We actively contribute to the establishment of national R&D goals and strategies. NUS is leveraging its research strengths across a broad range of fields to enhance value creation from our research, through direct commercialisation and application of our intellectual property, start-ups and spin-offs, and large scale partnerships with industry. We have also made catalytic contributions in Singapore’s entrepreneurship drive. The truly unique NUS Overseas Colleges programme provides NUS undergraduates an outstanding experiential entrepreneurship education in some of the most entrepreneurial hubs in the world, and has created a large cadre of entrepreneurs for Singapore. To date, more than 250 start-up companies have been founded by students and alumni of the programme.

As the national university, NUS uses its world-class basic research strengths to support national priorities in the application of R&D to position Singapore for the future. These include exciting areas such as healthcare system transformation, and the smart nation initiative. At the same time, NUS also drives translational research in additional areas which we believe are highly strategic for the future.

[Professor Michael Arthur] At UCL, we feel we’re here for the key reason of ‘impact,’ and we always keep that in the back of our minds.

We think we can have a big impact on the future of London, and so we’re formulating a London-wide strategy across all our areas from health to education, arts, culture, business and enterprise.   Our impact is through our providing the right people to fill those vacancies, to provide excellence to those sectors, and to think about the research that could move those sectors forward.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] Universities contribute in vast tangible and intangible ways to their societies.  NYU has been in existence for 180 years, and Oxford (where I was previously) for nigh-on 900.  In both cases you can see the intangible… the intellectual advancement of academic fields that cross the entire spectrum activity from literary theory to personalised medicine… That fundamental impact of a university of advancing knowledge allows us to create unknown worlds of understanding without us ever knowing ahead of time what the impact on society, technology, economy or our human condition will be.

Universities explore unknown worlds of intellectual activity, and the consequences can be very profound and very real in terms of defining entirely new industries and economic models.   At Oxford it was wonderful seeing the technologies of autonomous vehicles flourish, and at NYU we’re making incredible medical advances which are having an impact not just in a business sense but in the improved health of the wider population.

Q: What is the social and cultural role of universities?

[Professor M. Aslam] As they are born and nurtured in a set socio-cultural milieu, they remain geared to preserve, strengthen and propagate the values typical of that milieu. Consequently, they provide the moral and ethical props so essential for holding societies together, visualising their developmental trajectories and propelling them for positive action. In my opinion, the Universities are embedded in societies and are expected to respond to their specific socio-cultural needs over time and space. In developing countries of the world, education is also considered a powerful tool in alleviating poverty by producing skilled human resource needed for economic growth and for creating a healthy social environment needed for sustained development. The Universities have to play an important role to achieve this. In Botswana, education policy is guided by the statement, “ If you want to invest in future, invest in education,” It essentially implies importance attached to education and how important it is considered for future of the society.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] All universities play an important social and community role, some more so than others.  A good example is the American Public University System (APUS), not least because they’re often supported by their regions and do a huge amount of good work in those regions as a result.  We [the University of Manchester] have chosen to make community outreach a major part of our University.  We put millions of pounds into working with our local communities and are hugely proud of the work we do.  For example, we work closely with schools on access programmes, giving students the chance to come to University who perhaps otherwise would not have been able to.

In the past 10 years, we’ve also done a lot of work to open-up our campus.   A local councillor told me that a decade ago, the University was like the Vatican! What she meant was that the university was impenetrable, you couldn’t walk from one side of the campus to the other.  It didn’t feel welcome!  Our aim is to make the university feel part of the community, without these perceptions of walls and barriers.
I’m often asked how we measure success.   For me one measure is how the local community interacts with our university.  It should be a place they can come to enjoy our museum, our gallery, our public spaces, our open-days, our food outlets and more.  Many studies support this, defining universities as being anchor institutions in any local community.

Q: How should universities relate to the private sector & entrepreneurs [and vice versa]?

[Professor Lino Guzzella]  Investors and philanthropists value the university’s cutting-edge research. At ETH Zurich, this mutually beneficial relationship produces about 80 patent applications and approximately 25 spin-off companies each year. In 2014, Johnson & Johnson acquired Covagen, an ETH Zurich spin-off, for over $200 million. In 2015, GlaxoSmithKline acquired ETH Zurich spin-off, GlycoVaxyn AG, valued at $212 million. According to an internal survey, ETH spin-offs generated sales of over $580 million in 2013 and over the years have created around 2,500 jobs.

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] Universities have a crucial role in the early phases of innovation in most industries.  In life science, a majority of new ideas, new treatments and new technologies come from the academic sphere.  Often scientists themselves set-up small companies to validate their work and get acquired by larger firms…

The private sector and universities have a mutual dependence.  If we look at the life-sciences for example, no university has the strength to carry a drug through from research to market and so they need the companies as partners in this innovation process.

[Professor M. Aslam] Tradition places universities as ivory towers allowing entrance to a select few on terms and conditions determined exclusively by the university authorities on the bases of long established conventions. This norm, however, started crumbling after the World War II, as under unprecedented socio-economic compulsions mass education and with that universities came to be seen as effective instruments of socio-economic change. Open and distance education institutions, collaborative university operations, cross-border educational facilities and the like appeared as new and welcome educational phenomena. Experimentation with and operation of these new developments are enhancing the vision regarding the possibilities of further growth with the help of innovations in terms of both the lines of thought and practical applications thereof.

The compelling context as outlined above (briefly though) provides clear suggestions as well as directions for universities to cease to be the ivory towers of yore, and turn into potent and reliable instruments of the much needed socio-economic change. To achieve this objective, universities need to put in place mechanisms for tangible interaction with the private sector—i) surveying the job-market regularly, ii) building links with agriculture and manufacturing sectors, iii) collaborating with the ICT sector, NGOs and the like. These activities should help in evolving socially relevant curricula, which when activated should considerably improve the employability of university graduates, provide readily available and appropriately trained personnel for the private as well as public sector—all contributing to overall socio-economic development. The suggestion is that apart from the academic pretensions, which circumscribe university curricula today generally, universities should strive for curricula that are socially relevant and suit the needs of diverse populations—this implies a major curricular and operational-cum-transactional shift!

Secondly, a reasonable proportion of research grants available to universities (which are marked for doctoral work) may be diverted to attract promising entrepreneurs and help them materialize their ideas that have strong and positive socio-economic implications. This and similar activities may be further strengthened by attracting philanthropic (individuals as well as trust based) support. Industries too will come forward to provide funds to such universities as prove supportive to their enterprises.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] It’s always helpful if we, as universities, can work in collaboration with the private sector.

We started something called ‘The Works,’ to get local unemployed people back to work.  We do this in partnership with local firms now, and have helped several thousand people to get back into the jobs market.   Another example is ESOF (the European Science Open Forum) where we have the deep engagement of a large number of businesses in the region, at a variety of sizes such as BT, Siemens, Manchester Airports Group, KPMG and many others.  Around this (ESOF) is a programme of public-engagement activities called Science in the City to get more people excited about science.

For many of our research partnerships with industry, we try to ensure there’s a wider public-engagement aspect.  We always think about how we can bring people into the University, and a great example is our open days where local kids can come to the university, meet our top scientists and, for example, make graphene.  This is important commercial and academic work, but also does a lot to inspire the community.

[Professor Michael Arthur] People come to us with hard problems, they don’t really care ‘how’ we solve them, but they rapidly see that we can bring many different aspects to bear on a single individual issue and bring many different people from different disciplines to the table.

UCL is quite entrepreneurial in spirit.  People don’t ask permission to do things, they just get on with it – and this, combined with a creative atmosphere generates amazing outcomes.

Companies see this entrepreneurial approach and they like it.  It resonates with the private sector, and brings great benefits.

Q: How does learning occur?

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] We define teaching as occurring in the classroom because it’s convenient to do so, but learning happens all the time.

Learning occurs when you talk to a peer in a coffee shop, it happens in that ‘aha!’ moment, it happens when you take a lecture on one topic, another on a different topic, and they come together unpredictably in your mind.

It’s inconvenient to contemplate the true dynamism of learning, so we create this sterile environment called a classroom and assume it happens there.

Cognitive psychology shows us that it’s best to absorb knowledge in pursuit of a goal rather than because someone told you to.  It’s best to absorb knowledge when you’re hungry and curious for it.  It’s best to absorb knowledge in small chunks.  It’s best to apply knowledge immediately after learning.

Q: What are the key components of delivering a great education?

[Professor Lino Guzzella] At ETH Zurich, first-year students focus on a strong theory base in mathematics and the fundamentals of their discipline. A flat organizational hierarchy facilitates communication and fosters critical thinking at ETH Zurich fostering innovation and allowing ideas to develop from various points in the organization. ETH Zurich’s leadership places a great deal of trust as well as responsibility in its talented faculty and their ability to develop their own teaching, be it through project-based learning, or the use of the latest learning technologies and methods.

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] Learning offers cognitive and meta- value.

Cognitive abilities are literal skills, for example, you may learn mechanical drawing and be able to understand a gear or the dynamics of rotating machinery.  Meta- skills are frameworks and constructs such as linearity or philosophical concepts such as cause and effect or emergence.

In well-rounded universities you also take courses in philosophy and art, learning the finer things about human civilisation… and how to meld those concepts with your ‘core’ education of engineering for example.

In the past 20 years, especially with things like the iPhone, the different worlds of education have been coming together.

The nature of our diverse and dynamic world means that a well-rounded education is now extremely important, and technology is making this possible.

Growing up, I used to listen to music on LP’s and really clunky tapes.  We then moved to the tape-player and the Walkman, which diffused music a little more into my life…. And then the iPod, iPhone and things like Amazon Echo came along.  I know listen to music when and where I want, and as the mood suits me.  I landed in Mumbai the other day, and wanted to listen to songs from old-Bollywood to get myself into the mood.  That’s how learning ought to be!  If I’m driving through Old Mumbai and want to learn about the history of where I am. It should be available to me in that instant, right when I’m ready to consume it.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] The hallmark of NUS’ education is rigour, an area that we constantly work to enhance. In the past decade, we have built on this by launching new initiatives in response to this key question – how do we best nurture students and graduates who can succeed and contribute well in a future where the nature of jobs and their skills requirements will change dramatically because of technology and business model innovation, and where graduates themselves will work longer in much more complex environments and do more jobs across different sectors?

Of the many programmes that NUS has initiated, I would like to highlight four key thrusts that we feel contribute significantly towards a world-class education.

Firstly, a purposeful focus on experiential learning and programmes that help students develop strong personal and interpersonal skills essential for the future. These include initiative, integrity, resilience, imagination, teamwork and leadership. To do this effectively and at scale, NUS has pioneered fresh approaches which we feel are very promising. For example, we developed a new model of residential colleges at the NUS University Town, a 19 hectare green-field academic development launched in 2011, which has been successful in creating diverse, vibrant and collaborative learning communities both within and outside the classroom.  Last year, we launched a unique “Roots and Wings” programme that is designed to help undergraduates develop key personal qualities (Roots) as well as interpersonal skills (Wings).

Secondly, universities need to be highly innovative in the way education is delivered, in order to meet the changing needs and expectations of students and the society at large, and to help address the changing demands of the future. In this regard, NUS places a high priority in educational innovation. For example, our deep strategic partnerships with Johns Hopkins University, Duke University and Yale University have resulted in the creation of unique new models of education in the form of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, and Yale-NUS College. These educational innovations are widely recognised, and are often points of reference in global discussions about the future of education.

Thirdly, a strong emphasis on global education. Given the small physical size of Singapore, it is important that one of the differentiating qualities of NUS graduates is their ability to work effectively across cultures and in cross-cultural settings. This is reflected by the fact that the proportion of NUS undergraduates who have a significant overseas educational experience has grown from under 10% to 80% over the past 15 years. In addition, in our vision of global education, the academic value proposition of NUS is not just as a campus in Singapore which provides excellent education, but also as a portal and bridge to top academic teachers and programmes around the world. For example, we have more than 70 joint-, double- and concurrent-degree programmes with leading overseas university partners. By collaborating with educational partners with complementary strengths, NUS students today have both Asian and global educational experiences that are unique to the university.

Fourthly, a focus on helping students acquire the skills for lifelong learning and more recently, on providing more systematic support for this through an enhanced continuing education thrust in the form of a newly established School for Continuing And Lifelong Education (SCALE).

Q: What has caused education inequality?

[Sal Khan] As long as civilisation has existed, education has been the determinant between the haves and the have-nots.  Education has historically been very expensive; go back a few hundred years, and you will see it was extremely expensive- only the top few percent of society were able to get a true education.

In the last 200 years, we’ve had the advent of mass free public education; that’s led to a much more literate and educated population.  Even then we have huge inconsistencies between different countries and down to individual neighbourhoods.

One’s parent’s academic ability, and academic achievement has a huge influence on what students will do – anywhere from setting-expectations, placing the importance on the time and energy needed for education, having someone to tutor and mentor… those things are generational… having a role model to show you what education can open up gives you an edge.

[Professor Daphne Koller] Broadly, our society is structured in such a way that people who are better endowed financially, have access to better schools, can pay higher teacher salaries, can afford to send their children to better institutions, can better prepare their children for educational opportunities and so on.  We can see this clearly in the United States where people from the top strata of socio-economic status have roughly 6 times more likelihood of successfully completing college than those at a lower status.

Now that we have education becoming a ‘digital good,’ and thus having a close to zero marginal cost per learner… some of those problems will diminish, but not all.   We are still faced with the problem of how we ensure that those individuals who really need the most help get access to the right preparation, incentives and so on.

We’re trying to put more human-support into our online courses.  This allows people who are potentially less-prepared to benefit from guidance, coaching and mentoring so that they can have the opportunity to be more successful.

When you get people to be successful in their educational attainment who otherwise wouldn’t have had that chance, they benefit disproportionately to people who already had means to begin with.  If you look at people from lower socio-economic status, their chance of having significant tangible benefits from education are considerably larger than if they had a higher socio-economic standard to begin with.

Q: How can mastery-learning benefit online education?

[Professor Daphne Koller] The words of Sal Khan are tremendously influential when looking at how we deliver education online.  As he puts it, in traditional education the constant is the amount of time you spend learning and the variable is how well you learn it.   The right way would be to fix the ‘target’ of that learning outcome, but to vary the amount of time it takes you to get there… If it takes you more time, that’s fine, but you should achieve a certain level of competency before moving to the next topic… If you don’t, you’re building on a shaky foundation, and the whole house could collapse- and we see that in many traditional education settings.

We’re very proud of the fact that our platform is built around ‘mastery learning,’ we let people submit and re-submit assignments until they feel they’ve achieved a certain level of competency and want to move on.

Much of the work Khan Academy did showed that sometimes people just have a hard-time ‘clicking’ with something and it can take them a while to get there.  Once they do? They just zoom-off and can make more progress than people who perhaps got the concept more quickly to begin with.

We need to more broadly adopt mastery learning in education, and digital platforms give a great opportunity to do this.  The problem with things that are graded by humans is that with 150 or more assignments to grade, very few (if any) people have the patience and time to grade the same pieces of work 10 times over.  Technology can overcome this, and help.

Q: What is the role of peer-assessment in online education?

[Professor Daphne Koller] There are two very distinct ways in which peer-assessments are useful in online education.

Firstly, peer-assessment allows the delivery of grading and assessment at scale, where machine learning hasn’t yet caught up.  Right now, you can’t take an in-depth essay and provide an assessment or feedback using machine learning.  You can grade certain parts such as richness of vocabulary and grammar, but you can’t grade the depth of argument.    Peer assessment with an appropriate grading rubric can get you a degree further.  It still might not be as in-depth as the grading done by a faculty professor, but it’s considerably better than most machine learning methods.
Secondly, peer-assessment provides critical feedback in a structured way to your and other’s work.  This is incredibly important to the learning experience.  It forces you to think deeply about what makes a piece of work good (or not) and can be channelled to introspection on your own work and activity.  Many of our instructors who first-employed peer-assessment in our MOOCs (because of scale) are now taking those techniques into on-campus courses, not because of manpower but because of the pedagogical benefits.

Q: What is the ‘role’ of the teacher and the student?

[Professor Lino Guzzella] We believe in preparing students to be future leaders in their professional lives. To achieve this it is crucial that our professors teach how to critically examine existing solutions in science and in the economy and how to discover and take on new problems. Our outstanding faculty aim to inspire a curiosity-driven, entrepreneurial environment that focuses on fundamental research defined in a bottom-up approach.

[Bunker Roy] The role of a teacher is to make students think, to be curious, to be daring and to dream. Make his/her students believe the impossible is possible and most important believe in yourself. Then there are no limits, no boundaries and no walls. The teacher must inspire, must tell stories of courage and endurance and compassion. The teacher must set an example of simplicity of apparent sacrifice and give the students the ability to make choices. Once the choice is made the teacher must discreetly and gently encourage the students to follow their dreams however unacceptable it might be to parents and families.

You are a student for life. You are learning and unlearning all the time. The role of the student is to keep an open mind and absorb what real life has to offer outside the walls of the schools, college and universities. In the barefoot College the Learner is the Teacher and the Teacher is the Learner. The role of the student is to try new and crazy ideas because it is only when you are young you can afford to make all the mistakes. Oscar Wilde said, ”Experience is the name men give to their mistakes.” A student should never be bound down by theory. See what is happening outside the protective university walls. He/she at the university period must experience the reality of the world first hand- see hunger, starvation, exploitation, discrimination and injustice and feel the urge and anger to do something tangible about it.

Care about other people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.” Lao Tzu

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] At the heart of a transformative education is the dedicated and inspirational teacher. Given the vast volumes of “information” readily available today, teachers need to help students to develop the academic scaffolding and skills that enable them to curate, make sense of and use data effectively. Teachers should also create the learning environment where students can learn, particularly by working in teams, how to look at issues holistically and differently, think from first principles, frame good questions and to be able to apply appropriate approaches to address them. Beyond these, teachers and educators should also strive to excite and motivate students to stretch themselves to develop academically and personally, and acquire the habit of continual learning.

In the case of Singapore and many parts of Asia, students should move away from a traditional focus on academic grades to developing their academic and personal abilities and qualities for the future. At NUS, for example, we introduced a grade-free first semester and actively encourage students to take courses which would be academically challenging to them but which are likely to be of value in the future. We have also made writing and communications courses compulsory for the majority of undergraduates, and provided a menu of support for students to take up overseas and experiential learning opportunities. We believe that peer learning (and teaching) is very valuable, particularly if it occurs amongst students from diverse backgrounds, and have introduced programmes to enable and support this.

Q: How has the internet transformed education delivery?

[Professor Anant Agarwal] A lot of political figures have talked about providing universal access to education, but in the same-breath talk about raising taxes.  We need to focus on technology, not taxes.  With the internet and technology, you can provide much greater access to education to everyone, and increase the quality of education at the same time.  You don’t have to choose between the access and the quality.

Technology has allowed so many industries to deliver more efficiently, cost-effectively and at a higher quality than they ever could before, and I believe the same is possible in education.

Technology can make the provision of services become near-zero marginal cost.  It may be expensive to set-up and produce content, but once you have? The marginal cost can be very low.   This can provide increased access to people all over the world.

At edX we are committed to using technology to dramatically increase the quality of education.  In the past, you would have had to be very rich to be able to access a high-quality laboratory.   However, through virtual simulation technology- everyone can now have a lab in their basement!

Q: How is technology disrupting universities?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] It’s difficult to predict how technology will impact the future of learning.
There are a lot of MOOC’s, some of which are very high quality – but listening to an excellent lecture by a world leader is not really enough to learn and understand something deeply.  We need the physical-attendance of the teaching process, and the follow-up of exams and projects to prove that the individuals have learned something!

I’m not saying that technology is meaningless, I believe it will be a complement to traditional models but I do not think we can have people sitting in their homes following lectures at a distance and say ‘that’s it!

Physical presence at universities is important for pupils, without that they are missing something crucial.  In my own field, medicine, imagine if someone became a doctor from online courses and never saw a patient before they qualified? It would be unthinkable!

Q: How is technology changing education?

[Sal Khan] Technology has already changed education in am ore profound way than people may have appreciated.  Even 30 years ago, when I was a kid, if I wanted to know something basic about the world? Either my parents would have had to be upper-middle class and been able to afford a thousand-dollar encyclopaedia (which would have provided fairly superficial information), or I would have had to go down to the local library spending time researching (and even then, I would likely have found fairly superficial information).  Now? You can find what you want, about anything you want, free and instantly.

If for example, someone wants to know why the sky is blue? All they need to do now is open an internet browser and tap the question into google.   For many though, if they wanted to understand more about why the sky is blue- the diffraction of light on particles of nitrogen and so forth? That was often still hidden behind expensive and complex textbooks, university level classes, or at expensive schools where the teacher may have had time to answer the question for you.

The goal of Khan Academy is to take that portion of learning, the detail, and make it instantly accessible in seconds. Don’t get me wrong, you still have to sit with it, grapple it and understand it, but it’s available to you.

If you only have a middle-school education and want to go to college, you now have options.  30 years ago, frankly you had no avenue- if you were lucky you could have found a special programme.  Now, you can go to Khan academy and spend time to learn arithmetic, algebra, calculus and beyond- getting yourself exceedingly prepared to get the most out of college, or whatever higher education you go for.

Technology makes you think… Hey, why do we need textbooks at all? In the US, textbooks are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and I think that industry is going away… that’s a major shift.

Technology is also changing how the classroom is structured.  When we say, ‘a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere…’ – what we mean is that if you’re in a place that’s middle-class with decent schools, we want to liberate that, and make it more world-class- allowing the teacher to spend more time with the students to help them learn, creating dialogue, stimulation and so on.   If you live in a place that has a bad school or no school at all? You can get a smartphone and start to tap into your potential, and show evidence of your ability.

[Professor Lino Guzzella] Technology empowers digital learning and online courses open up the possibility to share and transfer knowledge on a much wider scale than ever before. ETH Zurich aims to offer its students a full learning experience – in the classroom, in the lab, in practical “hands-on” experiences, and in virtual spaces. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) reach hundreds of thousands of people every day and offer a platform that afford universities an opportunity to build awareness of the institution on a much wider scale than any commercial marketing platform. By providing real content and courses, ETH Zurich reaches potential students and faculty providing them with a preview of the quality and level of education that we have to offer.

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Technology enables us to unbundle education, unleashing access and quality.

When I first came to the United States in 1982, I signed-up to an AT&T service and got this pink telephone that came with a number of bundled services including long-distance calling, 411 information service, phone repairs, billing and so forth.  I used to call India, and you would be shocked… it used to call me $3 a minute to call my parents!  Today? You can call anyone, anywhere, for free with smart phones – unbundling has been a huge-part of the communications revolution.

In education, I believe that unbundling will be very important.  You can unbundle the clock, the credential and the content.

Unbundling the clock means that instead of spending one whole year doing a masters on campus, you could spend 6 months doing a micro-masters online at edX and then go to campus, spend half the tuition and complete your masters if you want to.

To explain unbundling the credential, think of this.  If I complete half a masters today, I have nothing.  Imagine if I could give you a micro-masters online that is equivalent to one-quarter or one-half of a masters!  You can build your credentials using bite-sized chunks of content.

Unbundling content is important.  If I am taking a programme at university somewhere, why should I get all the content from that university?  IIIT-Delhi for example, allow their students to complete courses online on edX which translate into course-credits for their ‘real-world’ studies.

Unbundling the clock, credential and content will create a revolution in education.

[Professor M. Aslam] The socio-educational evolution records significant transformation only periodically—i) when a significant political change occurs, ii) a momentous social change or resurgence takes place, or iii) a groundbreaking technology comes into being and people succeed in harnessing it to serve educational needs. Fortuitously, all the three factors weaved into our socio-educational canvas beginning the second half of the last century.  Beginning with the end of World War II (1945) and our independence in 1947, the vision of a resurgent new India and the appearance of ICTs, almost simultaneously, education (as a Social Institution) in India entered a significant phase of transformation, as i) issues that had not been even thought of for centuries came to the forefront seeking solutions, and ii) the solutions appeared in various forms—correspondence courses, open universities, distance education, open distance education, virtual institutions, on-line courses, OERs, MOOCs, and the like. None of these solutions per se constitutes education. Instead, they provide the mechanisms and also the dependable means to provide relevant education with speed, variety, access and affordability—the very imperatives imposed on the system by the selfsame process of transformation. These solutions will not show us how we may ensure quality in education, improve the quality of life, or create a learning and just society. Ultimately, it is how we address our social and economic issues, how we manage and monitor our educational enterprise, what choices we make and how successfully we project their consequences to work for, and how relevant we make our system of education to the process of socio-economic development. If we subordinate these solutions to constraints, restrictions, regulations, practices and conventions that were born in a different era for a whole different ball-game, we will be throttling them untried. Such solutions(read systems) do not ensure the quality of their products, be they material or human; it is the men and women behind the systems who are responsible for what the systems yield—if, for example, we choose to eliminate assignments and the handling of assignment-responses as they are too cumbersome to manage, we should not question the potential of the ODL system, rather we should point at the personnel who, for want of adequate will and lack of any sense of purpose, truncate the process and so the system. It is we, the human resources, who make or mar what is around us, or what we create.

Innovation/technology and education have always stood in a symbiotic relationship—education begets technology and in turn technology expands the horizons of education. Those who appreciate this relationship, move forward, and those who fail to see it continue in their abyss.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] We deliver massive open online courses (MOOCs) but we’ve been extremely selective to ensure it’s about quality not quantity.  We’re also developing distance and online learning for students on and off campus.

The technological advances that mean that someone in rural India can access education have created a continuum that’s impacting education.  We increasingly see that our students, on-campus, want access to online resources.  They want lectures to be captured, such that they could attend the lecture and see it afterwards too, or utilise the lectures differently.

Digital learning is not just about watching lectures online.  It’s about having dialogue with your teachers and fellow students, it’s about virtual scenarios and tools, and is moving towards a fully-interactive medium.

Some people have said that digital learning is the end of the campus.  I don’t see this occurring.  The campus experience is about a lot more than going to lectures!  It may well be however, that some students spend three to five years on campus while others may spend a year and do the rest online, or blend the two.  Digital learning gives students much greater flexibility than they have ever had before.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] The adoption of technology to enhance student learning outcomes is one of the key trends that is highly likely to drive innovation in global higher education. It has real potential to lift educational quality at scale and manageable costs in large countries which are currently poorly served. It will also provide much better platforms to support lifelong learning and re-skilling which will become a much more prominent need in all countries in the future.

NUS is pleased to have been the first university in Singapore to partner Coursera in 2013, to contribute to the development of MOOCs for a global audience.

Our greater emphasis, however, has been on using technology enhanced learning as a platform to catalyse and support course and pedagogical re-design of programmes within NUS, in order to improve learning outcomes. In particular, we are concentrating on courses with large student enrolments where technology-enhanced learning approaches offer the greatest opportunities to enhance motivation and personalise learning for large groups of students.

Through these, we have been progressively building an innovative technology-enhanced education culture on the NUS campus.  Student feedback has been generally positive, and faculty support is increasing significantly, so we expect technology-enhanced learning to grow as an integral part of NUS’ education.

NUS’ new thrust in lifelong education, through the setting up of the School for Continuing And Lifelong Education (SCALE), will provide additional strong impetus for the innovative use of technology-enhanced learning.

I should add that we believe technology cannot fully replace face-to-face interaction and experiential learning, in particular in addressing complex concepts. Our approach at NUS is to use technology to complement classroom teaching, to facilitate more engaging classroom interaction and encourage a focus on critical thinking, questioning and deeper discussions.

[Professor Shai Reshef] Technology is changing learning in many ways:

      • Capacity: There’s room for everyone in an online classroom; no one needs to stand at the back of lecture halls.
      • Individualized attention: At UoPeople, for example, class size is capped to 20-30 students. This means there is a high level of personalized attention. This makes a big difference in why our retention rates are so high. It is hard to imagine the same amount of personalized attention and support a student can receive in a large lecture hall. Moreover, with faculty all over the world, and across various time zones, it is safe to say we have no such thing as “outside of office hours”; our students have 24/7 support and access to instructors, advisors and peers, whenever they need it, who can help direct them with any issues or questions.
      • Access: Through technology, education can now reach students in geographic areas in which traditional education may not be accessible or reached. We’ve had students in the amazon, in refugee camps, asylum seekers. The spread of technology will ultimately bring education and academic studies to every corner of the world. As such, we know that some students at UoPeople, for example, are learning while “on the go”, accessing classes as they move from place to place, either looking for free wireless Internet on laptops, tablets, phones, or from anywhere a basic internet connection can be found. There are students today who do not have running water or electricity, and go to a lot of effort to reach their classwork by studying from Internet cafés.
      • Affordability: Technology enables us to cut almost the entire cost of higher education. There is no need for buildings/rooms, no textbook or printing fees required, we use open educational resources, open source technology, volunteers, and the new cyber culture of sharing information to help others.
      • Breaking down barriers: Technology enables students in various geo-political and socio-cultural contexts to come together and learn alongside one another as part of the global village, particularly students from places and backgrounds who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to learn together ( from warring countries).

Just to paint a picture: students meet in virtual classrooms at least 40 times (over 40 courses) during their Bachelor’s program, and nearly every time they meet with 20 new students from 20 new countries. Imagine what happens when every time an Indian takes a class he meets a different Pakistani, every time an Israeli meets a Palestinian, a Greek meets a Turk, and the list can go on.  We are not only preparing our students to work in the marketplace and in the 21st century global village, but even more importantly, we are opening their minds, creating a shift of attitude, teaching them that those who may be considered their ‘enemies’ may be culturally closest to them. We bring peace that little bit closer, and as we grow, it could be much closer.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] If we look at a university like Oxford which is over 900 years old, you can see that this is an institution which was already 300 years old when the previous information revolution took place… the printing press.  This was very bad, very disruptive… if you happened to be a scribe who hand-wrote books? You lost your job.  Universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Sorbonne and Bologna all absorbed ‘the book’ rather effectively and turned this technology into a way for them to do their work rather effectively.  I believe this is exactly the same with the digital revolution.  It’s a marvellous, exciting and transformational way of delivering information and learning.

The disruption cliché is massively over-used.  Universities will embrace technology as they embraced the printed press.  They will embrace digital technology and incorporate it into their teaching and research- and allow them to do it better.

The rhetoric of disruption and avalanches comes often from people who have a vested interest.  I prefer to take a more pedagogically grounded approach and think that technologically advanced learning will make universities stronger and better in the long-run.

Q: How are machine learning and AI influencing online learning?

[Professor Daphne Koller] We’ve not even begun to scratch the surface of how AI could impact education.
Machine learning and AI could be incredibly useful in generating a broader-library of assessments, in evaluating the efficacy of assessments through the process and in allowing some degree of automated grading.

Q: How is technology changing teaching?

[Professor Shai Reshef] Technology is changing teaching in many ways. Technology has enabled the instructor’s role to be the leader of discussion more than teacher. In our model, for example, the role of instructors, more than anything else, is that of a moderator.

Since students learn online, there is the ability to see how much they read, how much they study and how much they comprehend. Moreover, technology enables us to give better personalized attention to students. Our Dean of Computer Science, Dr. Alex Tuzhilin of NYU Stern School of Business, has developed an algorithm that follows the student’s performance, identifies what the student is weak at, surfs the net to identify relevant supplementary material suitable for the student, and encourages materials for the student to read in order to help them learn better.

We can take it a step further. Technology enables us to identify students in a class that are strong at certain points and who can be matched with students who are weaker in the same area, in order to help them. Furthermore, technology can help identify students who master material quickly and push them along to move faster to new material.

It’s harder to do all of this in traditional classrooms where we don’t have accurate data on students. Technology therefore can make teaching much more effective.

Besides that, I would add that while never actually meeting students in person, online instructors can be very interactive. Our teachers have told us that they gain a lot of satisfaction and derive great pleasure in virtually meeting and helping learners from all around the world achieve their academic goals and dreams, something which most wouldn’t normally be able to experience in their physical day-to-day lives.

[Professor Michael Arthur] Technology is enhancing learning rather than disrupting it.  Online or through distance learning, it’s very difficult to reproduce the immersive research-based environment we have on campus where you are literally rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s top minds.

Being able to access material online to enhance and supplement your learning…. Being able to go online to review a lecture, or see a new one… being able to do these things at your own pace, and in your own time is just wonderful for the students.

Q: How does online education sit alongside traditional universities and colleges?

[Sal Khan] Any university that views their main goal as the dissemination of information in the way that Newton first discovered, is in for a tough ride over the next 20 years.

The universities that will grow and flourish in the future are the ones that double-down on what makes their experience unique in the physical aspect.  I would always want my children to go to a physical university, especially ones that optimise what I loved about university; having a nice environment, being surrounded by other peers and faculty that inspired me and so on.

The university of the future should look a lot like mine or your university education, but it should get rid of the lecture hall.  A lot of people associate the lecture hall with the meat of a university education, but it’s really just a ritual that happens during the university education.  We need to replace the lecture hall with hands on labs, self organised study, internships and off-campus work.

We also need to rethink this arbitrary notion- perhaps coined during the Victorian era- that a degree must be ‘n’ years long.   You can give someone an incredible education for two years, that may be far better than a longer one for four years – everyone benefits, and the university may even get more profitable as a result.

Universities need to double-down on what makes physical great, really leverage the virtual, and have the flexibility to understand, and deliver on, what makes people great and equipped for society.

I’m a huge proponent of the in-person interaction and bond-building that you get in the physical education environment.   Online education done in conjunction with this physical experience can optimise education.   Right now, you can go to some of the top universities, and you spend most of your formal time in lecture halls and classrooms.  You don’t really interact with people, you may meet two or tree students or- if you’re really invested- get to know the professor.  For most people, it’s a pretty dehumanising experience.  The only real social interaction they get is through clubs, dormitories and other social interactions.   A university I would create would perhaps give more time to these social interactions, taking away lecture time…

I went to MIT, and they had this period every January called ‘independent activities period,’ where everyone is expected to be on campus, the school is open, the faculty is there, but there are no classes!  What happens is beautiful! People self-organise, create micro-courses, go on trips, build things, explore things…. During my time at MIT, I learned more and had a richer experience in this month than at any time in the rest of the year.

[Professor Anant Agarwal] The campus is here to stay, it’s not going anywhere… Innovative campuses however, will go to the next-level!

In the future, blended-learning will be commonplace.  For example, take the micro-masters I talked about.  We have a partnership with MIT where a learner can do a micro-masters on edX in supply-chain management.   MIT will look at how the individual performed in the micro-masters, and if they did really well? They will be admitted into the university with half the credit towards a full masters- meaning they can complete the course for half the money, and in half the time.

There is a beautiful synergy between the online and on-campus worlds.  This synergy will allow us to dramatically expand the market for education.  The number of people who can afford $70,000 and a year off on-campus is small… but the number that can do an online programme is much larger.

We launched entrepreneurship-101 on edX from MIT Sloan and we have hundreds of thousands of students all over the world learning entrepreneurship on this course.  So now, instead of a lucky few students listening to a rock-star professor, hundreds of thousands can now listen to their insights into how to start a company, anywhere in the world.

There’s a very healthy synergy between what we’re doing at edX and our university partners.   I always tell universities to be bold, not be scared, and realise that we [edX] are not competition.   We are a non-profit that creates a synergistic approach to revolutionise academia.

Online education is not an ‘either-or’ argument.  A dynamic, modular, digital approach to education allows universities to focus on what they do best…

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] In a constrained world, you have to take advantage of every degree of freedom.

If I don’t get time to read the newspaper in the morning, I will read it on my iPhone on the subway if I can.

Digital learning is an extraordinary tool, and often painted with a false dichotomy which states, ‘oh my gosh, it’s going to replace universities!’ – we need to get over that view.  We have lots of fantastic tools, this is just another one and we must take advantage of it.  We cannot continue to see everything in terms of competition, and x replacing y.

Digital learning is a very powerful tool, and universities need to play offense with it, and stop playing defensively!

It’s a great pleasure to be at a technical university like MIT, especially with the calibre of faculty we have.

The adoption of digital learning at MIT has been spectacular, more than 90% of our students encounter online courses during their time with us through edX, MITX and others.   The rapid growth has been more than I could have ever anticipated in my wildest dreams.

In many ways, the classroom is becoming a ‘choke point’ for education, we sit people down and yammer at them for an hour and a half while they try to stay awake.  It’s such a rich opportunity that we’re wasting.   A good teacher is a psychoanalyst, they’re supposed to be able to read the mental models and thinking of their students and help them to learn accordingly in a way that suits their individual needs- that’s not what we do now, we become glorified recordings!  So let’s put the recordings online, and leave the classroom for everything else!

[Professor Shai Reshef] In online learning there is room for everyone. As mentioned previously, UNESCO has stated that by 2025, approximately 100 million students will be deprived of higher education simply because there will not be enough seats to accommodate them in the then existing universities.

Online learning is a viable solution to this problem. Governments, instead of spending tons of money on building brick-and-mortar universities with resources they do not have, can educate every qualified student online, tuition-free. What a great leap this would be for not only the individuals, but for their families, their communities, their countries, and for the world at large.

People have various opinions regarding online degrees because they are a new concept in contrast to the old tradition of physically attending school. More and more universities are beginning to recognize online degrees these days, and many of the best brick-and-mortar universities have incorporated online learning as part of their degrees, with some even offering full degrees online. So I believe it is just a matter of time before there will be more universal acceptance of online education.

We have just announced, for example, a new partnership with University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley will now consider for acceptance qualified, top-performing UoPeople Associate’s degree graduates, who wish to transfer to complete a Bachelor’s degree at Berkeley.  We are thrilled to have this collaboration between Berkeley and University of the People because this recognition is the ultimate endorsement of the value of our degrees and it offers a great opportunity for our students. Now the most accomplished UoPeople students may be able to further pursue their dreams by attending one of the best ranked universities in the world.  We also have a partnership with NYU, wherein after one year of studying at UoPeople, our top-performing students may be selected to transfer to complete their studies with a full scholarship at NYU. I think these kinds of partnerships suggest that online and traditional universities can not only co-exist, but that they can thrive together and feed into each other’s success, opening the gates to further possibilities for deserving students around the world in an affordable way.

I think that in the not-too-distant future the majority of qualified people will have an opportunity for higher education. I envision the future of higher education as a spectrum of universities, in which there is enough space to accommodate everyone. Harvard will be on one side of the spectrum, and we will be on the other side. Everyone will need to be between the two ends, both in terms of price, offerings and value proposition. This might be in the form of specific courses and specializations offered by certain universities, and specific geographical concentrations offered by others.  Some will be traditional, face-to-face institutions of learning, others will be like us, fully online. Some will be half-half and others hybrids. And the price point will have to reflect it. Each will have to ask the question ‘What will attract students to come to this university and at what price?’ and similarly, students will ask themselves “How much am I willing to pay for something that is offered fully online, or fully face-to-face, or half on campus – half online?”, etc.

I can envisage a situation where there will be a real virtual classroom where a professor and 20 students all see each other virtually, maybe in 3D. It’s not that those universities that exist right now won’t exist, But the landscape will be much wider with many more opportunities to serve the students’ needs, interests and capabilities.

[Professor Daphne Koller] Our initial audience were not traditional consumers of traditional educational opportunities.  They were people who were not currently in college, or who had completed the level of education they were likely to get (regardless of whether this was a Masters Degree or simply completing their schooling).  Coursera gave these individuals the chance to pursue education that they would not otherwise have been able to get with their current lifestyle- they may have been working adults, young families, people with obligations and so on.

Now, we’re enabling universities to reach-out to audiences who do benefit from traditional educational opportunities (such as Master’s Degrees) but who are not able to commit to residential programmes.  In this case, we’re moving into a more ‘traditional’ educational offering, but delivered in a non-traditional way, more economically, and at scale.

There is a lot of research that now shows that online learning is effective, but of course there are still sceptics.  When done-well, online learning is as-effective as face to face learning.

We’re seeing a new ‘economic model’ for education.  It leverages the improved scale of the core-delivery mechanism (using video and content delivery) but also because of crowdsourcing as a way of providing meaningful feedback.  Machines are not (yet) at the point of automating educational feedback, but the fact that you can provide an at-scale human to human experience is changing the whole endeavour of education.

Q: How is online learning impacting research?

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Online learning solves so many problems, for so many people.  I was at IIIT-Delhi around a year ago and they had a challenge.  They have PhD programmes across all the IIT campuses, but a small number of PhD students.  These PhD students need to take some courses, but imagine… you may have 3 people at IIIT-Delhi who need to take this course, and 1 at IIIT-Madras.  Imagine how inefficient it would be for each campus to offer the course, if there may be only 1 student who will be taking it?  The conversation I had with IIIT leadership was that they could offer some of these research courses online through edX.  IIIT-Delhi could create a research course on one-topic, IIIT-Madras could create one on another topic, but all the students could take all the courses on all topics and everyone benefits.

Q: What are the technologies which are adding the greatest value to online education?

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Infrastructure technologies have a massive impact on education.  The broad-scale availability of high-speed internet access is very important.   Equally important is the availability of low-cost smartphones, laptops and tablets.

At edX, we are also developing a wide-range of technologies that add-value to the education process.  For example, we launched the concept of teams on edX.  Learners can form teams from all over the world and learn together.  You, based in the UK, could have a friend in America for example and invite him to form a team with you to take a course together.   We’ve also worked with companies to create virtual-proctoring technologies to allow students to be remotely monitored while they take exams, increasing the quality of the earned credential, and preventing cheating.

Q: How do you encourage ambition and idealism in students?

[Professor Michael Arthur] The history and values of UCL are evident throughout everything we do, and that’s a big attractor for students.  We’re also a very international university, 42% of our students are from other countries.  30% from around the world and around 12% EU.   If you have people from diverse and different cultures working together on problems, the outcomes are highly creative.

We work very hard on our connected curriculum to, allowing people to make the serendipitous connections between the different aspects of what they’re doing.  Right at the heart of this is a research based pedagogy meaning that from day one as an undergraduate, people are being taught the principles of enquiry and research.  Bringing this into student life early gives them the grounding that allows them to effectively manage ever more complex problems and research through Masters and PhD programmes.   The aim of this is to teach students that knowledge is temporary, has a boundary, and that you can contribute to it as much as anyone else can.  It also teaches people to deal with uncertainty whilst remaining critical and independent in their thinking and creative in their approach.

One of our initiatives is our ‘Global Citizenship’ programme.  Its popularity is going through the roof! So much so that we may look to incorporate it into the core of every course.  Even as a voluntary programme, we had over 1,000 people sign-up for it last year.  This programme gives 1st and 2nd year undergraduates a global perspective to their lives and profile.   We deliberately get students to work together on problems that require a multi-disciplinary and global approach, and get them to make progress as multinational teams over a two-week period.   This is not a credit-bearing course, it’s something students do because they enjoy it and it adds tremendous experience and value to their time with us.

Q: How do we define success in education?

[Sal Khan] In the past, getting a degree allowed you to enter into something akin to a caste… the caste of the college educated.  If you were lucky enough to go to an elite school? You entered a caste within a caste.
The world is moving past this ‘caste approach and thinking ‘hey, if someone has the capability to do something? They’re interesting to me! I don’t care if they spent some time around wood panelled rooms!

I definitely see things becoming more granular as far as an individual’s education is concerned, with people having many paths to achieving how they want to participate in society.  For some folks, it may be very similar to what you or I chose 20 years ago- but for other folks, it may be about learning a broader skill now, and some specifics later – or doing everything at once! They can tailor their learning to their situation and ambition.

The old university model was to take someone who was say 17-18 years old, make them spend 3-4 years with you, and then to spit them out into the world equipped for whatever specific task society needed from them.  Now? Things are different.  The world is changing continuously, business is changing continuously and so are skills.

The days of getting that nice job that grows and takes you to a pension are over, you have to learn continuously, and as you get further through life and maybe have a family- the ability to take a few years off to go on a residential programme diminishes, and can become zero.  This is where the virtual environment gets interesting, it allows you to continuously learn with the flexibility around your life.

This granularity also means that something could take you 2 hours to learn, but may be transformational for your career… But since it may only take you 2 hours, it’s simply not worth investing the overhead of getting onto a course and so on.  The truth is, most schools are structured in such a way that with the overheads they have, it’s hardly worth someone attending a programme unless it’s at least a year!

There was a time where it was unusual to buy individual stocks, people put them into a fund and let some professionals figure it out.  Over time, as information and tools became available, people began to build their own portfolios- for better and worse.  In the same way, education will be unpacked from these ‘programmes’ into the core pieces that are most useful for that individual’s future.

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] I’ve been a professor for 20 years, and I genuinely believe that the issue of ‘what’ constitutes success is an existential question that academics ought to ask themselves frequently, and it ought to cause them anguish and angst!

We measure success by how much we’ve taught, and we ignore the intervening yet correct measures of success such as how much the student has comprehended, how they’re able to take that comprehension and deploy it and how well life has rewarded them for this comprehension.

We’ve invented a very convenient bunch of proxy measures such as how well the student did in a final-exam and how well the student thought you taught (which is not necessarily correlated with how well you actually taught, or how well they understood).

We’ve made up certain metrics, we’ve turned them into doctrine, we worship at their alter and we’ve designed a system which, while convenient for us, is not necessarily the right one.

[Professor Shai Reshef] I think that success in education is creating well-rounded students who are well-rounded human beings with extensive knowledge in many fields and who are prepared for the job market. Being vocational isn’t everything. Beyond preparing students for specific jobs, universities should give students the tools to be able to learn the critical skills necessary for many jobs. In our changing world, the job market will change constantly and we want students to be prepared for this world and have a thirst for knowledge and a global outlook. We believe students should have values and be an active part of the global village, being open to others who are different, and to be upstanding global citizens – this cannot be achieved without education.

And obviously, education should be a right, not a privilege.

[Professor Daphne Koller] At Coursera, we have a very different measure of success to getting a certificate or diploma.  We began with a population that had completed courses and we asked them what their goals were, and the extent to which those goals had been achieved.  52% of our learners said they had come in with the primary goal of career benefit, and we asked them for a list of career benefits they may have received- ranging from relatively light benefits such as ‘I can do my job better,’ to life-transforming changes such as, ‘I was unemployed and now I’m employed or I’ve started a business.’  Around one-third of our learners received very tangible benefits from taking courses.

In the context of measuring success, we’re looking at life-outcomes rather than just a diploma… and we’re looking at outcomes that the learners themselves were seeking when they came onto our platform- and that could be educational attainment, a move from career to college, life-enrichment or many others.

Q: What is the role of digital learning in the future of education?

[Irina Bokova] Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play an increasingly important role in the way we communicate, learn and live. The challenge is to effectively harness digital learning in a way that serves the interests of learners and the larger teaching and learning community. Take mobile technology, for example. There are four key areas in which it should promote quality education: First, to support the influx of new students entering education systems in the next decade. Second, to better connect learning to work. Third, to ensure genuine lifelong learning; and finally and very importantly, to transform the lives of girls and women. We know the transformational power of education for girls and women. At the same time we know also that quality of educational opportunities available to girls are often inferior to those of boys and that women end up on the wrong side of a digital divide. We need to find strategies to ensure that women have equal access to mobile technologies and ICTs as men and are able to leverage it for learning and empowerment.

Q: How is digital learning changing the economics of education?

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] If we assume that education ought to work the same way it always has, and if we are unwilling to consider learning as an outcome? Educational institutions are in for a rocky ride, and there are storm-clouds ahead.

If educational institutions set their goal as learning, and decide they want students to apply their learning and be rewarded, and commit to do whatever it takes to meet that requirement? The future could be bright!  This will not come without challenges – and requires institutions to be flexible, agile, and reject dogma.

I don’t think educational institutions are in trouble, I think the dogmas are in trouble!

[Professor Shai Reshef] As an online university, UoPeople is able to offer its programs tuition-free by relying heavily on open-source technology, open educational resources, and the use of academic volunteers worldwide. To this extent, UoPeople has succeeded in cutting down almost the entire cost of higher education.

Perhaps the most significant element in our ability to change the economics of university education comes from our volunteers (numbering more than 4,000), who generously donate their time and expertise to the university. For instance, most of the university’s leadership, including the President, Provost and Deans, participate on a volunteer basis, with individuals from leading institutions such as Columbia University, New York University, and others providing UoPeople with a world-class academic backbone. The university’s President’s Council is chaired by New York University President Emeritus John Sexton, and includes Oxford Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Sir Colin Lucas, former U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Academy of Paris Rector Emerita Mrs. Michèle Gendreau-Massaloux, and Nobel Laureate Torsten N. Wiesel, among others. Some volunteers provide external services pro bono, some help with administration, and some are involved with course development, creating libraries and running departments. The university also has an army of volunteers who function as instructors and carry out the day-to-day teaching activity. The university courses are written by volunteers too. These are experts in the relevant subjects who write the courses, review other volunteers’ work, and supervise and improve the courses once they are being taught. Furthermore, UoPeople uses open educational resources. That is, all of its course material is free for anyone to use, and any content created by the course developers and then used by instructors is made freely available online.

We also place a high importance on peer to peer learning, and as such, students take on a larger role, which, in turn, reduces the need for instructors to be so involved.  And of course, in an online university, there is no need for actual buildings – so all in all, the method of online learning has created an alternative for those who may have no other—an alternative that is affordable and scalable and one that will disrupt the current educational system and open the gates to higher education for all qualified students. We’re creating a model for other universities, countries and governments to emulate. Right now, governments of developing countries are spending the few millions they have to build their own Harvard, however, after a few years, they still cannot meet the demand and they haven’t built Harvard because you cannot build Harvard in a few years. We are showing the way for how online learning can really revolutionize the economics of university education.

Q: What makes a great course?

[Sal Khan] The role of a great teacher becomes larger in the digital world.  We run a school under our offices, and you know what? We aren’t just hiring great teachers to look after the kids.  If you give people flexibility, they can do beautiful things.  They can run simulations, provide a more immersive learning experience, take students aside and get to know their journey and their emotional state and more.   Most traditional models focus on the academic content standards, our rubrics focus the social and emotional and we call-out traits like entrepreneurship, risk-tolerance, communication, and more.

For Khan Academy, we’ve found the subject matter we’ve provided fills the gaps that people find in their education.  You may be in algebra class, and find you’re a bit foggy on a concept and you can come on our platform and understand those gaps.   We provide comprehensive, intuitive and short (10 minute-long) sessions.  We don’t tell people to memorise formulae, we tell you where it comes from and helps you learn it intuitively, conversationally, quirkily (sometimes) and in a fluid way.  We also give people the ability to practice as much as they want, in a ‘gamified’ way, and with the freedom to fail and grow.

Q: What is the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in education?

[Bunker Roy] It is the only College of its kind in the world. There is no other place of learning and unlearning where an illiterate rural woman from the most inaccessible village any where in the world can learn how to be a solar engineer in 6 months using only sign language

The focus is on giving opportunities to rural women and provide them with skills usually identified with men. Sophisticated technology like solar and operating computers, broadcasting on the radio, fabricating solar lanterns and solar cookers and heaters are no longer complicated for the illiterate rural women to handle, repair and maintain.

But this process of inclusiveness is gradual non violent and non confrontational  involving the whole community. The innovation in design by putting the women first in the decision making process, in the planning and implementation and in the monitoring and evaluation has never really been done serious in such an organized and sustained manner.

It is not top down but bottom up. That makes the process sustainable because the community has agreed to take ownership of the process, the impact and the outcome.

The innovation is simple. That is why everyone understands and accepts it.

[Professor Shai Reshef] I’ve been an education entrepreneur for 25 years. As the founding chair of KIT e-learning, the online learning partner of the University of Liverpool and the first online university outside of the United States, I saw first-hand how great online learning could be. But while online learning was proving to be a great success, I started to feel that something was missing. I was conscious that, for most people, getting a great education is nothing but wishful thinking. It’s just too expensive. Then I realized that everything that had made online learning so expensive is actually available for free. There’s open-source technology. There’s Open Educational Resources that professors produce and put on the Internet for everyone to use. There’s this culture of social networking where people share, teach, and learn from each other for free. I told myself, ‘Wow. All I need to do is put it all together and create a university.’ So I did, and that is how I came up with University of the People – the world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, accredited online university.

We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. We just looked at what wasn’t working and used the amazing power of the Internet to get around it. We set out to build a model that will cut down almost entirely the cost of higher education.

Many other philanthropists, foundations companies and individuals jumped on board to make it happen. Either by donating money to kick it off the ground; helping us to decide what we should teach to make our studies relevant to the job market or volunteer to help us shape the organization, staff the vacant positions and make the dream happen.

It is an entrepreneurship venture, that has a sustainable financial model. While UoPeople is committed to being tuition-free, we are not entirely free. Apart from the one-time $50 application fee at registration, for each end-of-course exam there is a $100 fee. The average Bachelor’s graduate at UoPeople will have taken 40 courses and paid $4,000 by graduation.  Keeping in line with the university’s mission of not turning any qualified student away due to financial constraints, a range of scholarships are available in cases of need. The university is run on a very tight budget and the institution is marching toward self-sustainability. We expect to reach this later in 2016, with 4,000 enrolled students. We would not have got here without the support of philanthropy, and we still need $2 million to reach self-sustainability. After that point, the university’s operations will be financially sustainable, but obviously special projects as well as scholarships for students will require donations. We plan to continue growing by doubling the student number with every year.

Q: How do universities encourage ground-breaking research?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] Universities have to recruit the best people, ensure they have the infrastructure they need to do their job (labs, instruments and so forth), and then leave them alone to pursue the work they feel is important.

It’s very hard for a university to lead in science as an institution, but they can lead in terms of recruiting the right people, and investing in the structure and infrastructure that makes great research possible.

[Professor Lino Guzzella] The secret of our successful research lies in an organizational structure based on trust and responsibility. These two elements backed by a stable public funding structure, allow time for critical examination of existing problems and the exploration of innovative solutions that contribute toward some of the key questions that face society in the areas of: Health Science and Medicine, ranging from the understanding of microbiological foundations to developing robotic devices for rehabilitation purposes; Food Science, that contributes to mitigating the environmental strain of a growing global population; Sustainability, focused on climate change, solutions for future cities, and renewable energy resources; and Data Science, learning systems, and high-performance computing for better and novel solutions in many fields of science and technology.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] Investment in infrastructure and people is crucial to conducting world class research.  We’ve spent a lot of money on building our infrastructure, ensuring the right people are here, and also on developing the right partnerships to help them flourish.

The University of Manchester is a world leader in health research.  We have a large population with diverse health needs, some of the largest hospitals in Europe, an Academic Health Sciences Centre and also newly devolved budgetary control over healthcare.  That’s an unrivalled opportunity.

Our Global Development Institute has also partnered with well known international brands and organisations such as Red Cross, Red Crescent, Médecins Sans Frontières‎ and helps these organisations work on poverty, conflict, disasters and more.  The strength of the institute and its partnerships are a huge attractor.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] Universities have to give leading academics the freedom and independence to engage in the research they want to.  They have to provide a stimulating and effective environment, and give them the opportunity to advance their research interests.

Critically: It is the quality of students that these academics will be teaching that will be a major, major factor in their choice of institution.  In my experience, great intellectual leaders are hugely committed to teaching and find students extremely stimulating – both in the educational process, and through the challenging of perceptions and ideas.

Q: What is the role of research journals?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] The publication of research is an under-appreciated part of the process.  Scientific results are not really worth anything before they are published!  It’s only after results are published that they become useful for other scientists and the general public.

Previously, we’ve taken it for granted that the publishing of research will ‘take care of itself’ through the various scientific-societies and private publishers. Now there is more of a discussion around how we take-care of these journals, and even whether the costs of publishing are even reasonable.   Some people claim publishing costs are too high, and represent an unnecessary expense, however the quality control that comes with publications is crucial to outputting good quality research.

The journals are completely dependent on the scientific community for their evaluations.  They send out papers to other scientists and ask for their opinion, and scientists tend to do this without any compensation.  This is remarkable! Private publishers earn a lot of money from journals, and this is not in small part due to the loyalty of the scientists who review papers for them, largely for free.

The most important factor is to have high quality faculty who have the ambition and ability to be leaders in their research fields, and to provide the research infrastructure and environment that strong supports their work. We are also working hard to attract outstanding graduate students. At NUS, as in most major universities, we strongly promote multi-disciplinary research. One example is our eight integrative research clusters that bring together the best NUS researchers across disciplines to work on larger and more challenging research questions, and to stimulate new thinking and cross-disciplinary research. The integrative research clusters cover ageing, Asian studies, biomedical science and medicine, finance and risk management, integrative sustainability solutions, maritime, materials science, and smart nation.

Like most leading research-intensive universities, our faculty and researchers collaborate very extensively with colleagues from all parts of the world. NUS also has many institutional research partnerships with top universities internationally. Major partnerships with industry in strategic areas provide the challenging research questions that can spur innovative cross-disciplinary research, some of which with the potential for high impact application.

It is also important to have a culture of excellence which drives the faculty and institution to continually do better in research and its translation.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] The most important factor is to have high quality faculty who have the ambition and ability to be leaders in their research fields, and to provide the research infrastructure and environment that strong supports their work. We are also working hard to attract outstanding graduate students. At NUS, as in most major universities, we strongly promote multi-disciplinary research. One example is our eight integrative research clusters that bring together the best NUS researchers across disciplines to work on larger and more challenging research questions, and to stimulate new thinking and cross-disciplinary research. The integrative research clusters cover ageing, Asian studies, biomedical science and medicine, finance and risk management, integrative sustainability solutions, maritime, materials science, and smart nation.

Like most leading research-intensive universities, our faculty and researchers collaborate very extensively with colleagues from all parts of the world. NUS also has many institutional research partnerships with top universities internationally. Major partnerships with industry in strategic areas provide the challenging research questions that can spur innovative cross-disciplinary research, some of which with the potential for high impact application.

It is also important to have a culture of excellence which drives the faculty and institution to continually do better in research and its translation.

[Professor Michael Arthur] At UCL, we’ve always been research driven and that sits deep in our value-set.   We aim to create the space and freedom to allow people to be creative, and essentially we give very bright people the opportunity to pursue things at the edge of knowledge.   To foster these aims of course, we have to provide the facilities and academic environment!

Our focus on the relationship between our research and the education we provide to our students is a success factor for our institution.  We focus on a very research-based pedagogy, and I think that produces very independent, critical-thinking, problem-solving graduates who are well-set to be the leaders of the future.

UCL is very multi-disciplinary in our approach to research.  We don’t shy away from tackling big global problems, and we bring many disciplines to the fore to enable us to do this.  This cross-disciplinary aspect was one of the things that most surprised me when I first came to UCL, you’re almost abnormal if you’re not working across disciplines here and I’ve never seen anything quite like it at other institutions.  In fact, many universities tend to be very silo-like in their approach, and discipline oriented.   We still have disciplines here, of course we do – but people don’t feel constrained by them, and work across them.  This we feel, is one of the reasons we’ve been so successful in recent times.

Q: What is the role of prizes (such as the Nobel Prize) to universities and research?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] People who get prizes seem to like them! [laughs] Prizes inject a bit of glamour into the scientific process.

Prizes create interest around their subjects, not just for scientists and researchers but also to people entering the field and the general public.   People like winners, competitions and knowing what is the ‘best in the world.’  This presents a huge opportunity for scientists to showcase what they’re doing.  If we look at the Nobel Prize in particular, there is huge interest for the areas in which prizes are issued and journalists around the world frequently write wonderful pieces on science, scientists and those individuals who win.

The down-side to prizes however is that there can never be absolute fairness insofar as there is so much worthy work which, for various reasons, doesn’t win.

It’s truly a difficult task to choose winners, and the Nobel Committees are very anxious to go to the roots of the topic and discover who first had that original thought, who was the first person to make that discovery, who was the first to originate that concept.  Winners are not necessarily the people who have dominated the field thereafter, and that’s why often people can be surprised by the committee’s choices of Laureate.

The work of the Nobel Committee becomes somewhat easier however when we consider that even with the enormous amount of science and research we see emerging, the breakthroughs are often due to just a few people.    It’s those people we try to identify as Nobel Laureates.

Q: How should universities engage with governments and vice-versa?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] For universities, independence is critical to their success and in most countries this poses an uncomfortable scenario, since it is the government that gives them money one way or another.  Normally if you give money to an institution, you are entitled to some level of control, but it’s very important to ensure that universities have independence from these funding bodies.

In Europe governments provide almost all funding for university activities with some support from private foundations.  In the United States however, the vast majority of funding comes through external grants from the government and private foundations, philanthropy, tuition fees and private enterprise- they have a completely different system.  Both systems work!

[Professor M. Aslam] Tradition has it that universities are autonomous bodies, i.e., they have the power or right of self-governance. And universities all over the world exercise this privilege, no questions raised. That is why no two universities in one and the same country have the same standards necessarily—they are rated differently, as also they have differing strengths. This privilege has sound logical bases—an institution of higher education/training can be governed appropriately only and only by highly qualified/trained personnel, as they are expected to be fully aware of the local as well as the regional/international educational scenario, and thus fully competent for running such an institution.  The Ministers of Education, especially in developing countries, need to have a deep and relevant insights into the functioning of an institution of higher learning like a university. It is necessary when   education as a social institution is undergoing a transition—a situation in which the locale, the content, the delivery mechanisms, the clientele and the very purpose of education is changing and changing significantly.  This situation takes years and years to stabilize. It needs a supportive regulatory mechanism during such a period of transition. The government has to ensure that such a mechanism is in place.

The relation between a university and the government should be as pre-adjudicated. Universities are established under charters, according to bills passed by the parliament or state legislatures, which invariably define and outline the nature of the relationship between the government and the institution to be established. These documents provide a reasonably well defined framework, within which universities are expected to function independently. They should be allowed to do so.   Of course, times and situations change, societal needs and capabilities of the government change, and room needs to be made to accommodate such changes from time to time. In the case of India, such changes (call them the needed reforms) can be brought forth by   the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog ( NITI Aayog) which replaced Planning Commission in India   in consultation with the Ministry of HRD, through well debated National Education Policy documents, or the like. And universities should take cognizance of such documents and function within the given academic freedom accordingly, without allowing any room for ad hocism on either side.

Q: What creates a great campus?

[Professor Lino Guzzella] Great campus environments exist in all types of situations and frameworks. The keys are resourcefulness, not resources, and structures that foster mutual support for innovation. At ETH Zurich, we have set up a complete support chain that starts by exposing students in their undergraduate curriculum to entrepreneurship and continues to support them through their whole path at ETH Zurich. Programs like the Spark Award for the best patent, Pioneer Fellowships for commercializing research results, and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Labs at ETH Zurich support start-up companies helping them network and develop their technology or innovation for the market.

ETH Zurich is also active in an evolving high technology “ecosystem” that has inspired a growing start-up community in Zurich. The Technopark Zurich, established in 1993 for example, brings together approximately 300 companies involved with science, technology, and economics. Venture incubator activities for start-ups and research relationships with nearby IBM Research, Disney Research Zurich, Google, the Microsoft Development Center, and Oracle labs contribute to an innovative environment that enables ETH Zurich to achieve its knowledge transfer goals

[Bunker Roy] Barefoot College began in response to the villages’ needs for clean water, health, and education, and slowly evolved into the multi-faceted and successful organization it is today through the village people’s direct involvement in and ownership of the decisions made and solutions implemented in their communities. Drawing from traditional knowledge, wisdom, and skills, the rural poor collectively design solutions that foster sustainable and self-sufficient development. Additionally, they manage the implementation, training, and maintenance of these technologies to ensure community support and understanding. The Barefoot College coordinators, based on the Tilonia campus, provide the needed guidance and support to these 200 villages that form the local Barefoot community. Seven Field Centers supported by the College oversee an extensive array of programs that include women’s empowerment, rainwater harvesting, childcare and education, children’s parliament, solar initiatives, health workers and midwives, tree planting, handicraft and rural art, and village education and development committees.

Community trust, responsibility, and accountability bind the varied elements of Barefoot’s programs together. Walking around the Tilonia campus, one witnesses the hard work of women as they plant trees, construct and assemble solar cookers, sew mosquito nets and make sanitary napkins, learn the circuitry of solar engineering, make cloth, puppets, recycled toys and notebooks, and manage the village public radio. While women stand on equal ground to men, many of the initiatives at Barefoot College, such as the solar programs, are directed and powered solely by women.

Extending outward, Barefoot College reach is far and wide. Community support and interest in these programs are illustrated by the sheer numbers. For example, there are 70 women’s groups within a 70 mile radius of Tilonia comprising 10,000 women who gather weekly. Seventy five night schools serve 7,500 children (80% of them girls) who would otherwise never have the opportunity to attend school because of their daily obligations to herding cattle and household chores.

Internationally, Barefoot College also trains 80 illiterate and semi-illiterate grandmothers from India and around the world to be solar engineers each year. These grandmothers, or Solar Mamas, leave their remote and isolated villages from all the continents for Tilonia, where they spend six months learning solar electrification; empowered, they return home to light their villages where their actions speak louder than words: everyone, every single human being, is capable of learning and being an agent of positive change. In addition to gaining new skills, the Solar Mamas also forge friendships with women from cultures and countries they never knew existed. Communicating through sign language, small words, and their hearts, they teach and learn from each other. As one Solar Mama from Papa New Guinea states, “At first, we just thought that Papua New Guinea needed light. But now that we are here, we see that people from all over the world have the same needs as us. We are all human beings who need to take power to our own women.” To date, Barefoot College has trained over 800 women from 78 countries to be solar engineers.

In many ways, Barefoot College acts as a social security net for thousands of villagers who have none. It is a public space within which each individual is respected regardless of background, gender, religion, and/or physical capacity; it is a place where ideas are shared, conflicts are mediated, and every woman and man is considered an educational resource capable of contributing to the betterment of society.

The Barefoot College approach to development, in which communities are truly given the opportunity and support to decide and manage what is best for them, demonstrates the power of collective effort at a grassroots level. Believing in the full and unlimited potential of each individual, the college sparkles with the creativity, inventions, and love of hundreds of people who probably otherwise would have been considered irrelevant by mainstream society in the “modern age” of progress and development. Barefoot College sees no fault or limit in the poor, illiterate, or physically challenged. In fact, these individuals often have twice the drive and spark to learn and be of benefit to our world. A case in point: every building on the Tilonia campus was designed and constructed by men and women who had never gone to architecture school. Barefoot’s local and global initiatives stand as proof that positive and sustainable change is possible and real when we listen, trust, and live our values. The Barefoot community is a model that can be replicated throughout the world and that will improve the quality of life for future generations.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] The University of Manchester is relatively compact.  We are not a campus university in the sense of Berkeley or Lancaster, but we do have a defined campus whilst also being embedded in a city.  That’s quite unusual.  Most universities that are within cities are quite constrained and dispersed- the exceptions are new universities such as some in Hong Kong or Singapore.

For students and academics at Manchester, the beauty is that you can simultaneously be ‘on campus,’ yet only a few hundred metres away from a vibrant and diverse city.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] Winston Churchill noted that “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. NUS has invested substantially over the past decade not just to build state-of-the art educational and research infrastructure, but to design and develop precincts that strongly encourage planned and chance interactions among students, faculty, staff, collaborators and visitors from diverse backgrounds.

An excellent example that has worked very well is the NUS University Town; The multi-use buildings and facilities within a pleasant open setting has attracted and sustained a strong buzz, which continues to grow. NUS University Town is also home to the country’s National Research Foundation’s CREATE (Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise), which houses interdisciplinary research centres set up by top universities that include the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, Peking University, and Cambridge University. This further diversifies the mix of faculty, student and visitors to the precinct.

A great campus has an environment that encourages curiosity and exploration, where novel ideas are debated intensely and thinking is honed, and where passionate and talented faculty and students feel excited to pursue fresh lines of thinking and work. Our university community has also worked hard to develop a culture which fiercely values excellence and collaboration and which continually seeks to be self-surpassing.

We believe that a great campus should also be inclusive and externally oriented. For example, we strongly encourage our students to be active in leadership and participation in community service and engagement programmes which benefit the Singaporean and wider communities.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] NYU, UCL and their peers are perfect examples of how universities grow-up in cities.  These are universities that don’t have a campus but are entwined with their city.

A campus setting can be a rather bucolic and reflective environment; an extension of the monastic design that perhaps began with the quadrangles of Oxford and Cambridge, looking inwards onto their lawns and squares.

It’s important to see alternatives to how universities should be ‘built’ and NYU sits as a great example of how a university can be ‘in and of a city’ – it is intimately connected with the city, and this brings energy, dynamism, diversity and a lot of culture and life.  That can be very attractive to the modern student, but also very stimulating to students and academics alike.

Q: What is the role of diversity within a university?

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] In total numbers, we have more international students than any other university in the UK.  We also have more students with registered disabilities than any other.  We have a very large proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly so for a research intensive university.  We have a huge diversity of religious backgrounds too.

Our diversity in part, mirrors our city.  Manchester is a hugely diverse city, alongside being the youngest city in Europe.

The University of Manchester receives more undergraduate applications than any other university in England.  I’d love to say that was purely down to our academic excellence, but there’s no doubt that the vibrancy of our city is a huge pull, together with the relative cost.

I studied in London many years ago, at a time when London wasn’t quite as expensive as it is now.  I’d think twice now because of the costs!  If students want a city experience, and not all of them do… the northern cities are very attractive.  They have undergone huge development and renewal and the city centres of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool provide a fantastic experience.   In Manchester for example, you can- within 5 miles- choose to live in a modern city centre or a village, and within 30 minutes you are within the Peak District national park, and within 1 hour you’re in Cumbria and the Lake District national park or at the coast.

I was recently talking to someone looking to relocate from New York, he was asking me about the cost of a nice city-centre apartment in Manchester and he was staggered at how much more affordable it was than New York!  I also recently had another member of staff who was thinking of moving to Manchester from a major international city and couldn’t decide whether to have a house in the countryside, or an apartment in the city.  As it turns out, they could afford both given the costs of Manchester versus where they were relocating from.

Q: What is the role of the alumnus?

[Professor Lino Guzzella] ETH Zurich has nearly 65,000 alumni living throughout the world. We value their on-going association with the university and view them as “ambassadors” not only of the institution, but of Switzerland and our educational values. The knowledge, skills, and abilities they have acquired at our institution have changed the world. Albert Einstein, our most well-known alumni and former professors went on to earn a Nobel Prize in Physics and inspired a 100-year long quest for new vistas – Gravitational Waves being the latest discovery.

Q: What part of your legacy are you most proud of?

[Sal Khan] We get stories every day from people who have transformed their lives using our courses, it’s one of the most fun things about what we do.

I used to joke that maybe one day our courses could be used in Mongolia, thinking it sounded like one of the farthest places on the planet from where we are.  One day, I got an email from someone from Mongolia! It was a 15 year old girl called Zaya.  In her email, she sent a link to a video testimonial telling us how much she enjoyed Khan academy, and how much it helped her, and how it had sparked her love of mathematics.  I thought, ‘how awesome! Someone in Mongolia is benefiting from our videos!’ I immediately assumed she was upper-middle-class because her English was good and she had internet access, but then I read the text of her email more closely.   It turned out that a group of engineers from Cisco Systems here in the Bay Area used their vacation time to go to Mongolia and set up computers with broadband in orphanages.  Zaya was one of those orphan girls.  That by itself was mind-blowing, but what made it even better was that Zaya has now become one of the top contributors to Khan Academy and does it in her own language, Mongolian.  She’s become a teacher for her people, and that encapsulates what we are here for.

[Bunker Roy] The Barefoot College will be establishing 6 Barefoot Vocational Training Centres in Africa-Liberia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Tanzania. Each Centre will be funded by the Government of India at $ 400,000 each. The Government of Zanzibar has approved  $ 250,000 to establish a Barefoot Training Centre for women solar engineers. It was operational in August 2015 inaugurated by the President of Zanzibar.

The Government of India has approved the establishment of a Barefoot Centre in Guatemala.

The process is under way to establish a barefoot training centre in Papua New Guinea, Fiji Indonesia and Myanmar.

Barefoot College will triple the Barefoot Model for Community owned and managed Solar Electrification in rural Africa to reach an ADDITIONAL 150,000 people by 2018

The Barefoot College International has a three year Strategic Plan that is set to triple the training of Women Barefoot Solar Engineers and bring light to a further 120,000 households in 100 communities across Africa. The ambitious plan involves training a further 480 Women Barefoot Solar Engineers by 2018.

Q: What are the greatest challenges and opportunities facing universities over the next decade?

[Professor Michael Arthur] For university leaders, the ongoing key challenge is maintaining tremendously high standards across institutions with static (or reduced) funding.  Other macro-challenges such as a potential exit from Europe are adding unpredictability to this dynamic too.

We’ve been in a changing environment for some time with a constant level of uncertainty and change around funding, mobility and policy.

We (as UCL) want to remain in an internationally competitive position to attract the best staff and students to our institution.  Those people are the core of our success, and bring great benefits to wider-society and the country.

The changes that have occurred to immigration and visas have not at this point, created problems in the numbers of students, but it may be having an impact on the outside perception of the UK as being somewhere that is ‘open for business’ and hence may be impacting those very-top students from coming.

The overall funding position from UK government to UK students is a concern too.  We’ve been on a flat-cash settlement for half a decade, and it’s beginning to hurt significantly.   To keep an institution like this at the forefront, against a background of such pressures? That’s a challenge.

Universities also have huge opportunities.  Take for example the intellectual challenges raised by globalisation.  We have launched the UCL Institute of Sustainable Prosperity which aims to look at what a sustainable and prosperous world would look like.  If you go to China for example, and ask them what the big challenges are that they face? One of the things they will immediately say is distribution of wealth.  That’s an intellectually interesting subject! How do you create a distribution of wealth that is globally sustainable and what issues and disciplines do you bring together to make progress on that front? This institute is a response to what we saw as an opportunity; we recruited Professor Henrietta Moore, and the institute has had a wonderful start.

Q: What would a world be like with equitable, quality education for all?

[Irina Bokova] In short, it would be a better world for all of us – a more prosperous, peaceful and just world in which everyone enjoyed more equality, dignity and respect. Let me just take two examples, which are especially dear to me. Education can be part of a social transformation process involving men, women, boys and girls towards developing a more gender just society. Education can empower women to overcome forms of gender discrimination so they can make more informed choices about their lives. Such empowerment benefits women but also benefits the living conditions of their children and strengthens society. In India, young women with at least secondary education are 30 percentage points more likely to have a say over their choice of spouse than women with no education. In Sierra Leone, an additional year of schooling reduced women’s tolerance of domestic violence from 36% to 26%. The second example I would like to give here is the power of education to prevent violent extremism, which is currently surging. No one is born a violent extremist. Inclusive and equitable quality education is key to respond. It can give young people cultural competences, teach them history, teach them how to live together, and teach them how to be global citizens in an increasingly interconnected world.

Q: What would be your message to the next generation of university leaders?

[Professor Carl-Henrik Heldin] Success is connected to individuals, and recruitment of these individuals is therefore the key to the success of your institution.  You need to pay attention to people at every level; top scientists, professors, post-graduates, undergraduates and all the support staff who keep things running.

If you take care of your people you will have the great chance of creating a very successful university.

[Professor Lino Guzzella] To the next generation of university leaders: Take risks, accept that failure is part of the process – the nature of the playing field. Stay motivated by visualizing what you would like to achieve – both personally and professionally. Remember that there are many talented people around you, so learn from others as you forge your own path. Finally, in much the same way that an orchestra conductor brings rhythm to hundreds of talented musicians, a truly successful university leader is one who can bring hundreds, if not thousands, of diversely talented people together working together in sync.

[Bunker Roy] Start by doing what is necessary, Then doing what is possible, And suddenly you are doing the impossible” –St Francis of Assisi

[Professor Anant Agarwal] Embrace technology and innovation!

[Professor Sanjay Sarma] If you were a taxi driver 5 or 10 years ago, you would have thought your job was utterly safe.  You would take someone to the shops on a Thursday, you would take little Johnny to school every morning, you would take Mr. Smith to the airport when he called your fir… how could things possibly change? Well, along comes Uber… Through no fault of their own, these taxi drivers are now struggling against a technology they couldn’t possibly predict as disrupting them.  It isn’t IT guys in Bangalore disrupting IT people in America, these are taxi drivers – a very manual and physical job!

Why on earth would universities not be disrupted? Especially when they’re built on dogmas from over 200 years ago, and pursue these dogmas as if they’re truths (which, to be clear, they’re not).   The university as we know it was only invented 200 years ago, and was created to pursue the industrial age- taking rural migrants and preparing them for the mechanised world.

We have to go into education with a changed mind-set.  I am reminded of a bumper-sticker I’ve seen in Boston which states, ‘my karma ran over your dogma’ – We have to attach ourselves to our karma!  We have to deeply understand the problem we are trying to solve, and build our methods around that.

If you come into any industry with a dogma, you’re in trouble.

[Professor M. Aslam] Today we need a workforce suitable simultaneously for both production-based and knowledge-based economies.  This requires the development and preparation of a differently, but highly, skilled and knowledgeable workforce.  Our universities have to cater to this need of the hour; they need restructuring with the said objective in view.

Firstly, given the myriad levels and characteristics of the New Learner as well as the sought after newer learner groups—workers of all kinds in the unorganized sector, craftsmen/women, those engaged in family trades or crafts, digital illiterates, digital immigrants and digital natives—together with the qualified (in the conventional sense) university entrants at different levels, the dynamic IHE/T have to adopt absolutely unconventional pedagogical approaches to meet the challenge of imparting education/training to the clientele as diverse and dispersed as outlined above.

Secondly, the reorientation of learners, academics, educational administrators and the providers of student support services has become a compelling necessity in view of changing profile of both teachers and students.

Finally, apart from re-orienting learners and teachers, I feel that institutions of higher learning may have to  revisit their missions, administrative structures and budgeting processes and reorganize their operations keeping in view the varied applications of technology, human resource requirements and market forces.

As far as India is concerned we may benefit from her demographic dividend, and thus become a global production hub as well as a dependable service provider, India needs 500 million people with market-relevant skills by the middle of the 2020s. The conventional universities, with the limitations of their concrete walls and those of the voice of teachers in the classroom, cannot serve the purpose adequately. They will have to work in collaboration with the open universities and other institutions of higher education/training. They need to workout collectively  and execute modalities for i) harnessing and utilizing ICTs to their fullest potential cost-effectively, iii) sharing their resources (material, spatial and human) and research outcomes routinely, and iv) working together towards building a learning society that is able to work for our economic growth and global security.

[Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell] I hope the next generation of university leaders embrace all the new opportunities in the world whilst recognising the challenges including the fact that universities are now part of a global opportunity, not just a regional one.

I hope the next generation also doesn’t forget the values on which universities are built.  We all, as leaders of universities, deal with finance, business cases and operate in many ways as large businesses.  It’s all too easy to forget those key distinguishing features of a university which are about standing outside the political agenda, giving academic freedom, and giving people the space to develop their own ideas.

If we forget these millennia-old principles on which the greatest universities have been built, we’ll lose something hugely important to why our universities have been so successful.

[Professor Tan Chorh Chuan] A crucial role of the university leader is to create more, better and new opportunities for others: opportunities for our students to perceive and reach towards their full potential over the long-term: opportunities for our faculty to do their best work, to excel and to have a consequential impact; as well as opportunities for the communities we serve to advance, address their major challenges and position themselves well for the future.

[Professor Shai Reshef] If you educate one person, you can change a life, but if you educate many, you can change the world.

Technology enables us to educate the entire world and to give an opportunity to those who have no other opportunity.

I would say that there was no better reason for the invention of the internet than spreading knowledge. Use it for good. Educated people strive for peace and the more people who are educated, the better the global economy.

Our world is changing rapidly. Our education system is changing and we are at an era where every student will have the opportunity of education, including higher education. Education will be much more customized to the needs of students. Furthermore, the flow of information is dramatically changing, and with it, so is the role of the teacher, which has become more of a moderator rather than the source of the knowledge. Technology will better enable teachers to make sure that students learn and understand materials and they will be able to help students to move ahead at the right pace to attain knowledge. There will be different techniques of studying and different methods tailored to the needs of each student. Students will be able to get out of school much more ready for the job market. And at the same time, we hope that students, teachers and decision makers will make sure that we don’t ever narrow the role of education, but rather, open it, by making the graduates of the education system part of the global world.

Education of the 21st century enables us to make our world much smaller and prepare every student to be part of the global village.  We should grasp this reality and make the most out of it, because making our students and all students part of the global world, is the secret for a stronger global economy and a recipe for world peace.

[Dr. Andrew Hamilton] We recruit academics because of their great minds, but we want them to challenge the perceived wisdom and advance knowledge.  There’s an iconoclastic streak to leading academics in their fields of research.

Imagine an environment with thousands of iconoclasts… it can be a challenge to get them to function as one, and so patience is important.

Great universities are full of people who will challenge things – not just in their own fields, but in the institution.  The leaders of universities need to show wisdom, patience and reflection.

[Professor Daphne Koller] As we move to the next generation, we have an opportunity to re-think the value proposition we’re giving to our learners.  The traditional value proposition of education was largely driven around content delivery, and that’s somewhat surprising when you think how long it’s lasted.  Our current model of education was born at a time when books were very expensive and the only real way you could get education to students from the one and only copy of ‘the book’ was for an instructor to stand there and lecture it.  We’re long past that stage, but for many classrooms the primary value-proposition remains the delivery of content!

As we move to the next generation of educators, the value proposition has to be about enabling a deeper understanding- something that focusses more on the less-tangible, but critical, skills of taking an ill-formed problem and figuring out how to formulate it into something where techniques could be applied- and even which technique could be used.

Having debates on whether technique A is better than technique B and presenting the results of this debate in such a way that the audience finds it meaningful… All these things are critical in the 21st century world, with automation and AI taking over many of our more mundane skills.  These are the skills we need to develop in our students, and this is where our future educators must focus their efforts. 


The most notable distinction between living and inanimate things is that the former maintain themselves by renewal,” wrote the philosopher John Dewey, continuing to say that, “with the renewal of physical existence goes, in the case of human beings, the recreation of beliefs, ideals, hopes, happiness, misery and practices.  The continuity of any experience, through renewing of the social group, is a literal fact.  Education, in its broadest sense, is the means of this social continuity of life.  Every one of the constituent elements of a social group, in a modern city as in a savage tribe, is born immature, helpless, without language, beliefs, ideas, or social standards.  Each individual, each unit who is the carrier of the life-experience of his group, in time passes away.  Yet the life of the group goes on.  The primary ineluctable facts of the birth and death of each one of the constituent members in a social group determine the necessity of education.  Society exists through a process of transmission quite as much as biological life.  This transmission occurs by means of communication of habits of doing, thinking, and feeling from the older to the younger.   Without this communication of ideals, hopes, expectations, standards, opinions, from those members of society who are passing out of the group life to those who are coming into it, social life could not survive.  Society not only continues to exist by transmission, by communication, but it may fairly be said to exist in transmission, in communication.” (Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education is a 1916)

The subjectivity of our experience of being individually human belies the objective reality that we are human not because we are individuals, but because we are together.  We are the pinnacle of the billions who have gone before us, and simultaneously we are the base from which the next generation will emerge.   Education is that which separates us from being the product of now, to the owners of forever.

“The Mountain of Us”

From familiar ground, I reached up to unknown,

And froze in time, becoming stone.

You came, and climbed on my shoulders and reached, higher.

And you too froze in time, becoming stone.

Then they came, and climbed on our shoulders and reached.

And they too froze in time, becoming stone.

More came, they climbed on our shoulders and reached.

And in time, they froze, and became stone.

We all came, and stood on each other’s shoulders and reached.

This mountain of us became our life’s pilgrimage.  Our purpose.

And our world grew, with new horizons.

By: Vikas Shah

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.