Testing partner ViA explores best practices in university transformation during its international week
Universities and higher education institutions have long been regarded as the cradles of knowledge and innovation. As we step into the future, the landscape of higher education is undergoing a profound transformation. With the advent of digitalization and the changing expectations of the new generation, universities must adapt to stay relevant and provide an effective learning environment. Which is why ViA is especially keen to be the part of Accelerate Future HEI team who is working on supporting and enhancing the capability of higher education to undergo the transformational changes.
Being one of the partners of Accelerate Future HEI, ViA aims to share valuable knowledge with partners and gain new experience that will be useful for the university, the region and the country. The project has already inspired to organize new events, for example, just recently during ViA International week 2023 ViA team lead the panel discussion “University transformation experience” which aim was to highlight this topic and explore what other ViA partner universities have to say about their transformational experience. The panellists talked about the global events, which are happening very fast, how they are affected by globalization, the consequences and threats of war, including the recent and still felt effects of covid-19, rapid digitalization, generational changes and many other events that are taking place in the world and are changing it irreversibly.
More than 60 lecturers, researchers and cooperation partners from 15 countries and 21 universities attended ViA International week “Future University. Connecting regions” and took part in the discussions of such topics as the university of the future, resilience, sustainability, digitalization, experimental way of thinking, as well as support for Ukraine. The panel discussion “University transformation experience” fit well into the theme of the International week and gave the opportunity to see the experiences, opinions and understanding of the nature of transformation in higher education from different universities which are located in the different regions. Representatives from 4 universities in 4 countries (Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (Latvia), University of Tartu Pärnu College (Estonia), National Institute of Tourism & Hospitality Management (India), Sankt Pölten University of Applied Sciences (Austria)) participated in this panel discussion as the speakers and shared their unique experience and ideas about the direction and need for transformation in different types of universities.
The full recording of the panel discussion is available here
During this panel discussion we got acquainted with the experience of transformation of HEI institutions in various fields and various levels, and it gave us the insight into how different examples of transformation can be, what are the good practices of universities and what obstacles universities face when they want to transform things and their operations and promote their growth.
Iveta Putniņa Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences Lead shares: “ViA highly values this opportunity to learn from the best in the field of entrepreneurial and innovative universities and to dive into the journey of transformational changes. We definitely choose to go this path one step at the time and right beside the professionals who can guide and support us. Because in case of not doing so, sooner or later, we will end up with the really dramatic changes in the higher education field which then are much more painful and difficult to absorb. We would like to provide the knowledge and experience about future challenges and opportunities for higher education, make transformation in our university and create encouragement for other universities as well.”
Let us share some theses about the transformation potential and the main obstacles mentioned in the panel discussion. The main takeway of the conversation was that transformation is as our new normal and inevitable in all levels. You should be very flexible, fast thinking, use multidiscipline and international approach to transform and change.
The panellists highlighted the following key changes that will shape the universities of the future:
- Digitalization: As the catalyst for a change, digitalization has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, and higher education is no exception. From online courses to virtual classrooms, technology has opened up new avenues for learning and collaboration. Universities need to embrace this digital revolution to provide students with flexible learning opportunities, global connectivity, and access to a vast array of resources. However, this transformation requires careful planning and investment in infrastructure, training faculty, and ensuring equitable access for all students.
- Generation changes: The current generation of students, often referred to as Generation Z, has grown up in a hyper-connected world. They are high-tech-thinking, value diversity, and seek practical, hands-on learning experiences. To meet their needs, universities must adopt innovative teaching methods, such as project-based learning, experiential learning, and interdisciplinary programs.
- Thinking and habit changes: This leads to shifting pedagogical paradigms. The traditional lecture-based approach to teaching is giving way to more interactive and student-centred learning methods. Active learning techniques, flipped classrooms, and peer collaboration foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. This shift requires faculty members to become facilitators of knowledge rather than mere content deliverers. It also calls for a re-evaluation of assessment methods, emphasizing competency-based evaluations and real-world applications.
- Teaching and learning changes: Students today value flexibility in their educational journey. Universities should offer modular programs, personalized learning paths to accommodate diverse interests and career goals.
- Industry collaboration: Collaboration with industry partners enhances the relevance of education by bridging the gap between academia and the job market. Internships, co-op programs, and industry-driven projects equip students with practical skills and increase their employability.
Some obstacles in the transformation process:
- Resistance to change: Change can be met with resistance, particularly from faculty members who are comfortable with traditional teaching methods. Overcoming this resistance requires fostering a culture of innovation, providing professional development opportunities, and recognizing and rewarding forward-thinking faculty. It is big challenge to explain why we need to changes.
- Financial problems: The transformation process requires significant investment in technology infrastructure, faculty training, and student support services. Universities must seek creative funding strategies and partnerships to overcome financial barriers
- Equity and access: Ensuring equal access to digital resources and opportunities for all students is crucial. Universities must address the digital divide, provide support for students from marginalized backgrounds, and create inclusive learning environments.
- Some external factors, for example, change in study area, in job market. Challenge to attract students for Master levels.
- Bureaucratic processes in universities and also at the government level can slow down transformation process.
The transformation of universities in the digital era is an ongoing process that demands a proactive and adaptive approach. By embracing digitalization, understanding the needs of the new generation, and reimagining pedagogy, universities can create dynamic, student-centric learning environments. Overcoming obstacles and leveraging preferences will pave the way for universities to remain relevant and provide quality education in the rapidly evolving world.
This sets the scene for ViA at this moment when we have to choose which Institutional transformation acceleration projects to choose for the next phase in the project.
Accelerate Future HEI is funded under the Horizon Europe programme, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation. The Horizon Europe programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges. Moreover, it supports the creation and better diffusion of excellent knowledge and technologies.