Universities will need to broaden their scope and purpose to meet the needs “of the future world of work” according to the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane.

This could include changing their traditional model of delivering education to mostly young people, to one that provides life-long learning opportunities, Haldane said in a recent speech titled Ideas and Institutions – A Growth Story.

“In future it seems very likely young and old alike will be in equal educational need – to train, retrain and retrain again through their 60 or 70-year careers,” he says, adding – “never has the need for such learning likely to have been greater given the longer span and greater volatility in future career paths”.

Haldane says there are “good conceptual grounds for thinking the displacement effects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” may be extensive.

The estimates of gross job loss, he says, lie anywhere between 10 per cent and 50 per cent of the global workforce.

“Even at the lower end of this range, the societal impact would be significant. At the upper end, they would be truly transformative.”

“If the truth lies in between, this could still make the jobs loss from the Fourth Industrial Revolution greater than its predecessors.”

The skills required for the future of work

The skills required for the future world of work “are likely to be more evenly balanced between the cognitive, technical and social”.

Attributes such as “personal resilience, problem-solving and flexibility” would also be required.

The future university “may need to be a very different creature than in the past” – catering for multiple entry points along the age distribution, rather than focusing on the young.

It would need to be a “multiversity”, which would be about “spreading future skills across the workforce”.

[The idea of the “multiversity” was developed by the former president of the University of California, Clark Kerr, author of The Uses Of The University. In this view, universities would be central to society and be “a prime instrument of national purpose” and “new knowledge” would be “the most important factor in economic and social growth”. – DM]

The need for a “broad-based education” would likely be greater than ever, says Haldane.

“This might criss-cross disciplinary boundaries, as one way of increasing people’s ability to make giant logical leaps.

“Those skills will be social and technical every bit as much as cognitive, with head, hands and hearts sharing equal billing.”

Develop a broader set of capitals

Another educational challenge, says Haldane, is “how to spread future technologies across companies”.

This is crucial if ideas and innovations are to help to boost productivity, pay and living standards, he says.

Universities could help with this by again broadening their scope and purpose.

“In future, these would develop a broader set of capitals – beyond human capital (in people) to include physical and intellectual capital (in firms).

“And they would do so throughout the lifecycle of companies, not just in their early years.”

In this regard he references Germany’s Fraunhofer network of applied research institutes, run jointly by universities and industry.

“Each year, they engage in between 6,000-8,000 projects, large and small, with companies.

“The Fraunhofer have been found to play a vital role as both innovation hubs and diffusion spokes, boosting productivity in the German economy.

“The UK’s university network, repurposed, could potentially provide that diffusion infrastructure.”

Further reading

Haldane: Ideas and Institutions – A Growth Story.

See also Haldane’s – The UK’s productivity problem: hub, no spokes

Haldane’s speeches are marked by their detailed references and economic and historical contextualisation. Those interested in the future of higher education would benefit from reading the above in full.


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