The importance of innovation in education

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If Portugal does not innovate and change its outdated education model it risks being the ‘Oklahoma of Europe’ warned a Nova SBE economist on Tuesday.

Addressing business leaders at a lunch organised by the International Club of Portugal (ICPT) in Lisbon, economist and university fellow Pedro Santa Clara said that Portugal was at risk of “failing to take new opportunities and face fresh challenges from advances in technology” as higher education methods were radically changing for the first time in generations.
“This is probably one of the few sectors that needs to change in Portugal and hasn’t” said Santa Clara stressing that the revolution in technology and globalisation was “affecting us all” particularly in the “way we learn and teach.”
Online driven education, lifetime ongoing learning and aligning skills with in-demand jobs are just some of the ways upper education institutions will change in the future.
Pedro Santa Clara said that for decades quality was evaluated on the exclusivity of the campuses and their facilities without taking into account the quality of the student experience and competitiveness worldwide.
Over the next few years potential students — many of which are having to take out huge loans to fund their education — will weigh up the returns on their investment, including the outcomes of past students, job prospects upon graduation and the overall college experience more than whether the campus has a state-of-the-art gym.
Greater mobility and globalisation were other factors affecting the choice of higher education institutions. While on the one hand Lisbon and Portugal were in fashion and campuses such as Nova SBE had worked hard in attracting 50% of all its students from overseas, particularly Germans which now consider the university the third best business school in Europe.
However, many Portuguese university institutions were not seeing this internationalisation phenomena despite the Bologna accord which was signed 20 years ago with Portugal.
“If we don’t take care we’ll risk being an Oklahoma of Europe with all the best students going to study abroad” said Pedro Santa Clara who warned that the real war in 20 years time would be for talent and that if Portugal didn’t act now “all the deliriums of the Web Summit wouldn’t mean a thing.”
Santa Clara gave the example of the Lisbon technical college Tecnico where 90% of the students were Portuguese and which was failing to attract overseas students.
“This is not viable. You have to have international students and this presents us with a threat and an opportunity” said the economist pointing out that there were “more Portuguese students studying medicine in Prague than in Lisbon”. Prague has four medical schools attracting students from all over the world.
Pedro Santa Clara said what was happening in medicine was equally happening in engineering and law.
“Portugal may be in fashion now, but we have been suffering from a demographic implosion over the past 20 years and international competition is fierce. A high percentage of Portuguese students who go overseas for the higher education do not return” he said. “If we don’t change soon students will go to Switzerland and elsewhere instead of doing their courses here”.
Technology was a second force that was affecting higher education in a world where lecture theatres dominated by whiteboards and slide projectors was already a thing of the past thanks to changes in technology which now allows the rate of learning to be adjusted according to each student’s level of difficulty and ability. “That’s a gain, a very big gain” he said.
In fact, over the past few years changes in technology have been pivotal in allowing educational institutions to move into a technology-mediated teaching and learning world creating new opportunities for students and new obstacles for colleges and universities to overcome.
The way that education is delivered will need to adapt to cater for this new digital, technology-driven market.
The process and rate at which people learn is changing. With less time available, many students now want to have access to leaning programmes that are flexible and accessible through a phenomena known as ‘unbundling’.
Universities in the US such a Stamford and MIT have ‘unbundled’ traditional programmes to offer shorter and more flexible options and by doing so are able to tap into a new market and provide learners with relevant and specialised content that they can apply to a role instantly. Examples of these new educational products are short degrees, professional certifications and just-in-time learning (bootcamps).
“Putting a lecturer in front of lots of students is not really that effective. Technology facilitates project-based learning and peer-to-peer learning where we learn with our colleagues, partners and rivals” said Pedro Santa Clara but pointing out that it is difficult to get university professors to change what they have been doing for over 20 years.
“Technology will both help us and force us to change and technology is changing so fast that we can’t see how far it will change our lives in 20 years” he said adding that may skills we do now will be replaced by machines.
In other words, higher education won’t be all about policies and procedures. Technology will allow learners to transport to different times and places and experience new worlds using artificial intelligence, virtual reality, machine learning, adaptive learning, natural language processing and universal accessibility among others.
“We will need to learn throughout our lives and pick up new tricks” he said pointing out that US universities like Stamford were already customising experiences for students with students being able to do degrees over six years or many years throughout life as education becomes Populi as well as Alumni.
Universities of the future would have classes with young students as well as older people learning new skills sets related to changes and advances in technology, as well as there being new skills hubs offering courses in critical thinking, curiosity and communication group work.
Last, Professor Pedro Santa Clara slammed what he called the number of “benign” educational institutions that only served to protect the bad teachers of bad students. “It is extraordinary that in 2019 no one is disputing this phenomena in Portugal which is not serving the best interests of the institutions involved, its students or the country.
“We don’t want what happened to Blackberry and Nokia to happen to our collages and universities — becoming obsolete. We have the opportunity and need to change”.
He also said that the new French system École 42 which teaches programming without Charging fees is gaining ground worldwide, including Portugal where it would be introduced at Nova SBE, and is already in 25 countries.
Founded in 2013 in Paris, École 42 has become famous for teaching computer programming to anyone who wants to learn cost-free.
“This programme is running in São Paulo, Rio and now Madrid. It’s very innovative school. There are no traditional classes or lecturers, instead the students work with each other in the schools using a platform. Startups will be more attracted to and linked to this kind of programme that will make campuses more open to society,” he concluded.