Knowledge Diplomacy and the Digital World: Does international tertiary education have a role?

As the digital world transforms our society, it brings both immense opportunities and significant risks. New technologies and platforms are revolutionising the way that knowledge is produced, accessed and used globally. Solutions to many of the world’s greatest challenges are increasingly within reach. The speed and scale of change is also disrupting labour markets and business models, radically changing the nature of jobs and the skills required. While technologies are creating huge opportunities and wealth for some, many more remain excluded, deepening inequality and polarising societies.  

Historically, international tertiary education has fulfilled a unique position as a global knowledge producer, developer of high level skills and powerful anchor in local and global society. In a radically different future world, however, how relevant will it be and what contribution can it make? 

Going Global will debate the role of international tertiary education in this new paradigm, focusing through a policy or practice lens, on four roles: 

Global knowledge producer

Huge challenges face global society from climate change, energy, water, biodiversity, food security to population growth, health, economic growth and democratic governance. As digital technologies change the conditions of knowledge production, dissemination and application, they provide new opportunities to address these. Digital platforms facilitate greater research collaboration across nations and disciplines, driving new knowledge which, itself, leverages digital capability. As consensus grows that knowledge producers should serve the public good, those platforms also make new knowledge more globally accessible, changing perceptions of responsibility and accountability. At the same time digital platforms encourage new and different kinds of knowledge actors - including public engagement in knowledge creation – raising issues of validity, ownership and openness. 

We welcome proposals which address these challenges, in particular:

1.    How can policy makers, researchers and institutions develop international models of collaboration capable of solving global challenges?

2.    How can we extend collaboration in knowledge production to include communities and under-represented groups?

3.    How can researchers and institutions strengthen their engagement with the public as knowledge partners?

4.    How will new structures of knowledge ownership affect knowledge production and research

High level skills developer

By enhancing employment opportunity, productivity and quality of life, new technologies and business models can create major new opportunities for societies. These, however, will only be realised if new jobs can be created and skills developed.

Currently, youth unemployment and skills gaps continue to blight development in key nations. While digital technology brings opportunity, it also creates increasingly complex jobs that require very different skill sets. One prediction points to 35% of core skills changing across industries and countries by 2020. Digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility will be in much greater demand. Demand for STEM skills will also continue to rise steeply. High-level skills gaps, however, already exist – and in most economies, there is a considerable skills mismatch between graduates and the needs of employers. Closing that gap will become much more challenging as the need for new skills accelerates.

As digital technologies radically reshape business models, job destruction is set to outpace job creation. Entrepreneurship will therefore be critical to driving job growth.

We welcome proposals which address these challenges, in particular:

1.    How can we best develop the new skills needed alongside the attitudinal requirements of entrepreneurship, creativity, persistence and ambition?

2.    How can more students be encouraged into STEM subjects, while retaining the importance of interdisciplinarity?

3.    How can we create more effective connections (including structures, systems and policies) between vocational, professional and academic skills?

4.    How can we strengthen collaboration between industry, civil society and tertiary education to develop the relevant skills and attitudes in young people?

Global society anchor and solution provider

New technologies have major potential to democratise access to both education, knowledge and employment opportunities. The evidence, however, suggests that they are in fact deepening inequality, as benefits largely accrue to already advantaged groups while others are negatively impacted by job destruction, skill mismatches and long-term unemployment. Vulnerable populations, including young people, are disproportionately affected (the global unemployment rate for youth is nearly three times higher than it is for the adult population). Inequality within most countries is growing - in 2015, half of all the assets in the world were controlled by the richest 1% of the global population; the bottom half of the population held less than 1% of all wealth. At the same time, digital networking platforms are creating a growing awareness of this inequality.

One result has been a growing lack of trust in the main social institutions.  In 2017, 47% of people distrusted businesses, while 59% distrusted governments. Experts, including academics, are also increasingly distrusted. Instead, social media networks are recasting stories, creating new visions and new “truths”. At the extreme, they are also mobilising group action driving political and social protests.

We welcome proposals which address these challenges, in particular:

1.Inequitable access to educational opportunities are a major source of disadvantage which risks locking in social exclusion across generations. How can policy makers and tertiary institutions tackle this? What can international tertiary education contribute?

2.How can policy makers and institutions promote social inclusion and mobility more effectively?

3.What role should institutions play in countering polarisation in society - and how might they best do this?

4.How can institutions and academics secure and promote “truth”? What contribution might international collaboration make?

Leader and partner in a future world

As the digital world changes global society, many of the traditional roles and practices of tertiary education are potentially under threat. New providers of skills and knowledge (including civil society itself) are taking increasingly important roles. And, while much continues to be expected of tertiary education institutions’ ability to anchor and sustain social cohesion, that role is increasingly complex, difficult and beset by seemingly insurmountable challenges. Alongside this, institutions have lost much of the recognition and trust they held in their role as experts So, will academic institutions become increasingly irrelevant in a future global society? How do tertiary education leaders view that possibility? What are their visions of a future role and what strategies will be needed to achieve that?

We welcome proposals which address these challenges, in particular:

1.How should institutions ensure that they remain relevant in a future digital world? What strategies should they employ?

2.Can international tertiary education play a future leadership role and what could that be?

3.How can institutions strengthen their work with local and global partners to make a more effective contribution? How might this change institutions themselves?

4.What are the risks and opportunities for institutions of knowledge diplomacy? How might these be managed?