The University of Twente is holding discussions with a wide range of internal and external partners to find out how others view its future and what role it should play in society for the next twelve years and beyond. On Monday, 28 May, Executive Board president Victor van der Chijs met a group of secondary-school scholars from Kottenpark City Lyceum in Enschede and challenged them to conduct a thought experiment about the future of the university.
During their discussion, Van der Chijs talked with the scholars about what they expected from studying at a university, what kind of education they wish to follow, what they think about lifelong learning and what role technology plays in their lives and their study choice. He also asked about their concerns for the future, what they care about and how they see their professional careers.
It was clear from their serious conversations, with Van der Chijs and with each other, that the scholars are well able to imagine how the future might look. For example, they are very aware of the fact that people are living longer, hence also working longer, and that taking a particular degree need not necessarily determine what you do next.
As regards university life, they consider the face-to-face experience and personal meetings at a university in particular as an important added value. Lectures can be followed online from home, “but nothing can replace personal contact”, as one of the students said. “And the facilities and laboratory available at the university is not stuff you have at home.” In their view, these are all points in favour of continuing to attend university in person. The same applies to contact with tutors and professors, particularly in respect of their ability to help in understanding the content of the curriculum.
In addition, according to the pupils it is part of the university’s job to be an “open forum” in which to acquire skills and to develop as a person in a safe environment, whether it is about learning to work together or to lead a team. They also consider learning to work with people with different points of view and from other disciplines an important added benefit. The influence of social media was discussed as well, with the students suggesting that the university establish a point of contact for those suffering its negative effects or, for example, wanting to learn to cope with digital stress.
Another key issue for the scholars is the natural environment. “We need to act fast and limit the damage,” they told Van der Chijs. The University of Twente should therefore put sustainability at the heart of everything it does. Whether it is the reuse of materials, or the incorporation of teaching material on sustainability in the programmes “so that students become more aware of it as well.”
From their emphasis upon good guidance in choosing the right school subject packages and later in a degree programme, it is evident that the scholars understand chain thinking in education. But the ability to make changes later on, as well as to combine their pathway with elements from other forms of study, is extremely important to them. As are problem-based learning and the opportunity to apply theoretical know-how in practice. That the questions facing society are becoming increasingly complex, with knowledge developing at an ever-increasing pace, is quite evident to them. From the educational point of view, that requires broad programmes of study followed by really thorough specialization in one particular area, to learn everything about it.
When asked what they thought of the university as an international environment, the scholars’ response was unanimous. Having multiple cultures on campus is enriching. But they do not want to forget their Dutch roots. They also realize that there are virtually no jobs now in which you work solely with Dutch companies or organizations, so experience abroad is very important. They do think, however, that the English they learn at primary school should align better with that taught at secondary school. But a few decades from now, might it not be even better to be good at French, Chinese or Spanish, given the economic development of countries where those languages are spoken?
Victor van der Chijs was delighted by his conversation with the scholars: “It's good to see that these pupils are already looking ahead and are able to form opinions on all kinds of subjects. These are our future students.”
From all the discussions it is currently conducting, the UT intends to shape a comprehensive new mission, vision and strategy. A draft mission and vision have already been compiled. These declare that the UT sees its role as serving society as a technical university offering sustainable solutions which put people first.
For UT, strengthening society means providing education and delivering scientific and technological solutions for important societal issues. But also helping people to better understand the impact of current scientific and technological developments upon their communities and the environment. For full details of this process, see https://www.utwente.nl/shaping2030.
Click here to view photos from this meeting.
Bertyl Lankhaar spokesperson for the Executive Board of the University of Twente, M 062002743