The Future of Universities and Education

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”  – Gandhi

The trend towards the knowledge society with the advent of globalisation, internet and WEB 2.0 technologies are making existing educational structures increasingly redundant and irrelevant. The traditional educational delivery methods consisting of classroom lectures or academic seminars are being challenged by the new virtual delivery methods aided by automated search, analytics and knowledge management tools. The pace of technological changes has forced academics to provide new frameworks to situate these new changes. The inaptness of existing structures is also being exposed by the new crop of students who have ready online access to new technologies & virtual information repositories since birth.

The traditional structures around education focussing on imparting knowledge with a view to ‘prepare’ students for professional vocations does not hold true anymore. The lightning speed of technological advances has meant that the education imparted in colleges today is getting out-dated in no time. This has resulted in a slew of refresher courses and certifications that are needed to keep oneself abreast with the new changes. Education is now not a vocation limited to a few years in college or university but is a required lifelong aptitude without which professional success cannot be guaranteed. The organisations have been scampering to create training facilities for their employees to augment their skill levels and some employees have been forced to wear the hat of professional trainers on top of their regular work. These changes have meant a professional life that is not limited to work but one where employees are both students & workers. This has meant that old educational structures where the boundaries between students & workers were well- defined does not hold ground any more.

A few decades back students coming to universities were ‘raw’ with limited access to knowledge sources and this meant that universities could teach standard curriculums to ‘transform’ such students into ‘Knowledge Workers’.

But times have since changed, the students coming to universities now have ready online access to knowledge repositories and in most cases can be termed as ‘Knowledge Students’. The existing educational curriculums lack enough depth to keep such students engrossed and universities in future will be forced to think differently to make classroom education relevant for these students.

Also the transformation of these ‘Knowledge Students’ into ‘Knowledge Workers’ is not long lasting as before and workers are becoming ‘obsolete’ at a faster pace than ever. They need to be re-educated and re-trained continuously to keep them useful to society.

This is both a challenge and opportunity for Universities, this constant need to re-educate knowledge workers is a huge opening for universities but does need an overhaul of the existing curriculums and delivery methods to become relevant for professional organisations.

The requirement for lifelong learning means that education is being imparted by ‘seasoned’ knowledge bearers to ‘mature’ knowledge seekers. This constant recycling and retransmission of knowledge is going to refine understanding and open up new grounds for educationalists.

This article tries to explore these trends further and aim to predict the future of universities & education in the context of coming of age of knowledge society.

The Main trends researched in this article are

1) Challenges faced by Universities to educate ‘Knowledge Students’ i.e. out-dated curriculums & archaic educational delivery methods

2) Opportunities offered to Universities by the need for life-long learning and re-education of ‘Knowledge Workers’

3) Opportunities available to Universities by the continuous transformation of agricultural, industrial & service based society into information & knowledge society

4) Importance of Self-learning and how universities can help facilitate it

5) Ontological challenges in educational paradigms where knowledge seekers are more mature and informed and the knowledge deliverers are a blend of practitioners & academics.

Historical background on philosophy of education

Before we can contemplate the future of universities & education, let’s explore the past to get the background behind the existing educational philosophy & structures.

In ancient societies the aim of education was primarily to provide young pupils with good training in the performance of their social, economic and religious duties. The focus was on the preservation and enrichment of culture, character and personality development.

In ancient India the ultimate aim of education was promoted as ‘self-realization’ and the aim of education was the pursuit of such a fullness of being or ‘making of a man’. The making of man was regarded as an artistic and true purpose of education which must aid in this self-fulfilment and not merely in the acquisition of objective knowledge. The Indian educational system was totally residential where a student was expected to reside in a school or Gurukul. A period of time was allotted for young exclusively for education, this was known as Brahmacharyam during which students concentrated on learning various subject under complete self-discipline. The education was imparted as three step process

1) Sharvana: listening to truths as they fell from the lips of the teacher, pronunciation was important as any difference in that might change the true meaning of the word or phrase

2) Manana: implies that the student needs to interpret himself the meaning of the lessons imparted by the teacher i.e. reflecting upon what has been heard (Sharvana)

3) Nidhyasana: means complete comprehension of the truth so that the students may live the truth i.e. meditate upon the essence of what has been intellectually understood until there is total conviction.[1]

In Western world the philosophy of education started with Plato & Aristotle. Plato divided the state into ‘three classes corresponding with the three parts of the soul i.e. the appetited (desire, pleasure seeking) like farmers, labourers and businessmen, the spirited (energy, courage) like military class and finally rational (governing) class. Plato suggested a kind of higher but communistic mode of education for the two upper classes i.e. military & philosopher-rulers. Plato felt that this system would create the much needed justice and happiness within a state, which itself is an educational institutional.

Plato devised an educational process whereby the stages of education were divided into years. From birth to age six, all children in the state were expected to be cared for by their parent, particularly the mothers, although additional training would be provided in state nurseries during the day for the three-year olds and over so that the female members of the community (the children’s mothers) could be fully employed in state services. Between the ages of six and ten years, all free citizens of the state were expected to go to Music Schools and Gymnasia, corresponding to our own universal free primary education. This should be the limit of formal education for members of the appetited class. From age ten to eighteen, the spirited i.e. warriors and rational i.e. prospective philosopher-rulers received a kind of post-priory education; with emphasis on Grammar & Mathematics, as well as artistic and military training. This was to be the end of the formal education of members of the spirited class and it would be followed immediately by a two-year compulsory national service in the army by members of the two upper classes. Thereafter, from age twenty onward, the military class was to continue its military functions while the rational governing class would continue its formal education consisting mainly in studies of the Mathematical, Sciences (Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Harmonies) and Dialectic, (Philosophy), up till the age of fifty when members of, the class could be required to begin their active service to the state as philosopher-rulers, devoted mainly to a life of contemplation, apparently the best life of all. All along, the two upper classes were to be interacting in the educational process, eating and living together in State barracks.

Aristotle disagreed with this emphasis on the specialisation in a state and argued that Plato’s communism was too extreme and led him to propound his concept of freedom in education. This implied that any individual in the state, should be given opportunity to develop his talents to full irrespective of which platonic class he belonged to.[2] Aristotle philosophy on education can be summarised as

1) Thinking & practice as educators must be infused with a clear philosophy of life, there has to be a deep concern for the ethical & political.

2) Strong emphasis on all round and ‘balanced’ development, play, physical training, music, debate, science were to all have their place in forming if body, mind & soul

3) Emphasis on both education through reason and education through habit. By the later he meant learning by doing – ‘Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones’ (Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p91)

4) Aristotle bequeathed to us the long standing categorising of disciplines into the theoretical, practical and technical[3]

These early thought processes laid the ground work for the modern philosophy of education and the university structures & educational frameworks. Heidegger in 1940 wrote “Real education lays hold of the soul itself and transforms it in its entirety by first of all leading us to the place of our essential being and accustoming us to it”, which is not very different from what ancients had advocated.

Challenges in educating Knowledge Students

In a far simpler world, just a few decades back science and technology were regarded as independent enterprises. The primary goal of science, practiced by the academics, was clearly earmarked as advancing fundamental knowledge and any new breakthrough can then be handed over to private enterprise to put it into practical use.

Technology, on the other hand, was a private enterprise in which proprietary solutions to practical problems were sought, and the knowledge gained was protected by either secrecy or intellectual property vehicles, such as patents. These independent worlds were at the heart of a social theory of science espoused by Robert K. Merton of Columbia University in a set of essays published in the 1970s.

But this distinction is fast blurring and now the scientific breakthroughs are conducted by both professional scientists as well as knowledge students. The student breakthroughs are protected through numerous legal devices existing to provide intellectual property protection. Under the Bayh–Dole Act, universities have taken on more of the trappings of industry by seeking patent protection for even the results of publicly funded research.

Scientific journals intersect with intellectual property issues at several levels; most are well defined, but troubling problem areas do exist, such as the ownership of the results of student’s research. The traditional relationship between a professor and a student is a collaboration of responsibilities. The professor has the responsibility to challenge and develop the student’s intellectual skills in both depth and breadth and educate the student in related matters like good writing and scientific ethics. But there are challenges in attribution and recognition of student efforts for which new research frameworks will be required.

Opportunities in re-educating Knowledge Workers

Heidegger writes “Teaching is even more difficult than learning. We know that; but we rarely think about it. And why is teaching more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and have it always ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching call for is this: to let learn. The real teacher, in fact, lets nothing else be learned than—learning.”

This ontological difference between teaching and learning makes it particularly difficult for corporations seeking to transform themselves into learning organisations in creating viable teaching structures and methodologies to re-educate their workforce. Corporations are increasingly recognising the importance of their most valuable asset which is people and the need to keep investing in them by re-educating and re-training them. In most cases knowledge to succeed is within the organisational boundaries but still corporations struggle to create frameworks to capture this knowledge and to disperse it effectively to their workforce. Organisations need to build up structures so that any idea encapsulating new knowledge coming from any level, location and team can be shared across the organisation.

This is where universities can collaborate with organisations to build structures which can help transform an organisation into a learning organisation. For example Tobin in his book ‘Re-Educating the Corporation’ has come up with a broad framework of five principles for such learning organisations

1) Everyone is a learner

2) People learn from each other

3) Learning enables change

4) Learning is continuous

5) Learning is an investment and not en expense[4]

More such frameworks would be required by corporations and universities in future would need to fill up that gap.

Another side effect of learning organisations have been the appearance of industrial researchers. These researchers unlike their academic counterparts possess hybrid motivations for their research ranging from naked profit gains to admirable philanthropic intentions and have every intention to solve practical problems immediately. In particular the biomedical, pharmaceutical, and information sciences have led in blurring of the division between science and technology. This has resulted in corporations overlapping into the academic domain of basic research and opens new grounds for collaboration between universities & learning organisations of future. More research will be required to define the frameworks within which the industrial researchers can be situated.

Opportunities in coming of age of Knowledge Societies

Globalisation is resulting in the tectonic shift as the role of manufacturing in economy declines and low skill jobs disappear. Education becomes of greater importance than before for the competitiveness of a country in the global market place. The governments have been forced to invest heavily in education and this trend is only going to continue. This governmental investment also makes it possible for those from deprived backgrounds to realise their talents as the economy becomes more fluid & open. This presents twin opportunities for universities in that they get more governmental funding and also more students who can afford & who are interested in higher education with the intention of improving their standard of living.

Globalisation, which Giddens was among the first to describe (in The Consequence of Modernity in 1990) is less of a phenomenon, it is simply the way we live now. The spread of instantaneous electronic communication over the past two decades underpins much of it – making possible the 24-hour global marketplace. “This is a global age: I cannot agree with those who say it is no different from the period of the early 20th century, when finance capital was global. It is much more intimately linked to our lives. It is a shift in relationships, where the global intersects with the private. What leads to an intensifying of global markets can also lead to an intensifying of local and regional cultures. There’s an increasing connection between local life and global change. You can forget the word globalisation: it’s what we are.[5]

Work may be ending, or much of it. Thus, Giddens thinks, education and the academy will take on much more importance. Indeed, education has become something of a metaphor for change in society. “If you have the end of a period in which work has been the guiding theme for many people, and the whole motif of economic development itself comes into question, then you must think about things like social cohesion and divisiveness. And education thus becomes a way of thinking about that.”

Traditionally humans have tried to find meaning in their lives with the work they do. But this is going to change, the ‘need’ to work is going to wane off as technology continues to advance and bring more automation to the work we humans do at present. This is a paradigm shift and is major risk for future society. Full employment is going to give way to who knows what? This is going to cause severe disruptions in the relationships within families, within generations and within classes. The concept of retirement is going to disappear as people might not even have work to retire from. They might be required to work at a much lower level throughout their lifespan or possibly not work at all.

This again presents an opportunity for universities to provide structures where such under employed or non-employed people can be engaged effectively perhaps to further the advancement of human knowledge or just to keep them busy with something. Universities can come up with courses or research opportunities for such under employed work force where people can again find the meaning in the lives.

But the challenge will be to keep the people motivated, if there is no work needed to be done then what is the need to educate people. It might be a totally different world than what we know off today.

The Structuration theory can help explain this new interplay between human actions and the new social structures and in the identification of modalities which can be used in the immediate future. ANT can also be used to understand the tight interchange between social and technical means using actor-networks and to provide frameworks for future society as a social-technical web.[6]

Self-Learning & Education

The knowledge workers are coming under increasing pressure to indulge in self-learning to stay ahead of their peers. Hodkinson and Bloomer (200) note how contemporary policy concerns surrounding lifelong learning are bringing a renewed interest in theories of learning. They comment that this has included an interest in the social situated-ness of learning, stemming from a return to Vygostsky (1978) and to more recent work by Lave and Wenger (1991) on communities of practice. They also agree that ‘much recent thinking about the social nature of learning draws from work outside formal education, with an increasing emphasis on informal learning, for example in the workplace’.[7]

Similarly, Osborn et al note the influence of lifelong learning on their thinking where a primary concern is to focus on “the need to understand what is that motivates and empowers an individual to take advantage of the learning opportunities available to them; to shift the focus of research concern away from the provision of educational opportunities, from the factors that influence the ability to learn and towards those that impact upon the desire to learn” (2203, p9)[8]

But self-learning comes with its own challenges. The first concerns the identity of the learner within the conditions of globalization. Edwards & Usher explains it beautifully “At a time when learners are themselves subject to great changes in their sense of identity under the influence of economic, political and cultural change, there’s therefore a question as to whether, for instance, the humanistic notions of learner-centeredness provides us with the categories to make sense’ of learners. (2000, p53)[9]

Hughes concluded that globalisation and changing socio-cultural norms is leading to the emergence of new educational paradigm that places learner identities at its centre. This is comprised of the following elements.

First, there is a strong focus of socially constructed accounts of identity making within globalized economies that recognizes the cultural and temporal impacts of a variety of domains in developing positive or not so positive identities.

Second, there is a concern to find theoretical frameworks that will overcome the binary of agency-structure dualisms. The two approaches mentioned are one to add Bourdieu accounts of agency and other one to add post structuralism to accounts of structure.

Third, due attention is given to issues of voice. The general focus is yet to be found in the more mainstream (i.e. other than feminist, anti-racist and post-colonial) fields of post compulsory and adult education[10]

Self-learning is not really learning on our own. We are born into a world already full of knowledge, a world that already makes sense to other people—our parents, neighbours, church members, community, country. We learn by participating in these communities and come to embody the ideas, perspective, prejudices, language, and practices of that community.[11]

Knowledge flows through professional communities[12], from one generation to the next. Even though we do most of our thinking alone, in our office or study, we are building on the thinking of others and to contribute to a discipline, we must put our ideas out into the “public”—just stewards for a moment. Even when we develop ideas that contradict the inherited wisdom of the profession, our revolutionary” ideas are meaningful only in relation to the community’s beliefs. They are still a form of participation in that discipline.[13] In future these communities will be situated in a virtual world and located globally which again will bring its own challenges.

Ontological challenges in possible future frameworks of education

For educationalists the times are not easy, they find themselves at difficult crossroads in society. The challenge they have is to ensure that on one hand education fulfils its primary purpose of preparing society for a world which is becoming increasingly multifaceted with the advent of globalisation and changing cultural & social norms. On the other hand they need to come up with the educational methodologies and structures that work in this complex environment where continuous change is the only constant and where innovation is revered.

The growing digitisation is making the classroom mode of teaching increasingly irrelevant. Today technology is fixed and centralised in classroom but digitisation is slowly dispersing throughout all aspects of classroom teaching. The current Classroom mode of a teacher addressing a group of students in a physical setting is going to pave way in future for a fully digitised classrooms which will allow students to freely collaborate with peers globally. This would mean that classrooms will give way for Studio like structures where peer to peer learning will be the standard mode. This would allow students to discuss, learn and solve problems with each other globally and teacher only serves as facilitator. While teachers will focus on actual teaching, the personalisation needs of individual students will get delegated to AI. This should ultimately lead to virtual ethereal setting where learning, discourses and even assessment happen regardless of physical and political boundaries. In both Studio & Virtual mode we should see the ubiquitous mobile use of technology for imparting education which will be self-paced and might even be designed by students themselves.

These changes will result in ‘opening’ of information where dissemination of information will happen outside of universities and classrooms offering learning, feedback and assessment to students at the time & place it suits them. Over time education will become a continuous interconnected effort allowing students to cope with an ever changing world. For educators this would mean non-standard curriculums with focus only on actual task of teaching and personalisation of learning as well as assessment being delegated to AI.

The latest efforts to unify theories of human thought and language from with-in the rationalistic tradition to form a new discipline called Cognitive Science also alligns well with this paradigm change in education. In future boundaries will be vague and linguistics, psychology, artificial intelligence and the philosophy of mind will have to combine together to provide new educational strcutures.[14]


This article just touches the boundaries of the fundamental shift that human society is undergoing now. This shift is going to pick up pace and finally lead us all to a future that might be increasingly perilous. There is a need to define this future and to create structures that can make this transition from present to future smooth. This is the future where learning will become intrinsic part of human life, where there would be need of only minimal work, where work won’t define the meaning of life and humans would need to rediscover it in something else. This is where universities will need to collaborate heavily with governments so that human society can be put to some meaningful enterprise in future. Increasingly it seems that the universities will be the industries of futures, colleges will be the future corporations and education will become a necessary commodity of human life.

Edmund Husserl was right speaking in 1934 about “the lack of foundation in the sciences, the gap between scientific objectivity and the everyday life world, the lack of a ‘spiritual’ dimension in technological advancement that may lead to disaster”. Specifically, Husserl’s analysis of the crisis coming about due to the separation between people and science, and the ensuing forgetting of issues such as the subjective origin of science, the foundational role of everyday life in the creation and development of any methodology, and, ultimately, the obliterating of authentic human existence in the management of organizations and technologies[15], will hold true in the 21st century. The challenge for universities in future will be to fill that gap and develop structures to blend technological advancement with spiritual regeneration of self by making education the core of human life.

Tarun Rattan



[2] Adeyinka 1992 – The educational theories of Plato and Aristotle their relevance to educational policy and practice in Africa today

[3] Aristotle The Nicomachean Ethics, London: Penguin

[4] Daniel R. Tobin 1995, Re-Educating the Corporation: Foundations for the Learning Organization

[5] Anthony Giddens, The Consequence of Modernity 1990

[6] Monteiro E., Hanseth, O (2014) Social shaping of information infrastructure: on being specific

about the technology

[7] Hodkinson, P. & Bloomer, M (2000) Stokingham Sixth Form College: institutional culture and disposition to learning. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21(2), 187-202

[8] Osborn, M, Broadfoot,P Mcness, E, Planel, C, Ravn, B. & Triggs P. with Cousin, O. & Winther-Jensen, T.(2003) A world of difference? Comparing learners across Europe (Maidenhead, Open University Press)

[9] Edwards, R. & Usher, R. 9200) Globalisation and pedagogy: space, place and identity (London, Routledge Falmer)

[10] Christina Hughes (2004) New times? New learners? New voices? Towards a contemporary social theory of learning, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25:3, 395-408

[11] Tbomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

[12] Mcdermott, R. Why Information Technology Inspired But Cannot Deliver Knowledge Management

[13] Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York, NY: Vintage Press, 1970).

[14] Winograd & Flores, Rationalistic Tradition

[15] Claudio Ciborra, The Labyrinths of Information, Chapter Krisis

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