Reflections on Global Education Dialogue 2015

Ly Pham (2015)

Global Education Dialogue is a series of multi-national annual seminars held by the British Council, aimed at gathering the leaders of government, industry and higher education sectors to debate on the critical issues having significant impacts on higher education in the world. Global Education Dialogue 2015 took place in Seoul, Korea, in February 26-27, focusing on “The Role of Technology in the Race for Global Talents”. Underlying this debate are important questions about the future of higher education. This article reflects the issues presented at the Dialogue from the personal perspective of the author.

I-generation: the objectives of the future higher education

 A key term of the seminar was “i-generation” which refers to people born after 1985, the first generation that has grown up with a pervasive use of technology devices such as iphone, ipod, ipad, laptop, etc. They use these digital communication devices almost in every activity of their life.

I-generation people are digital citizen, who can multitask, are digital connected,  and immersed in a social network environment: email, face book, twitter, home and at school, absorbing an enourmous information from numerous sources. Therefore they have new expectations from school, which differ from their parents’. They use internet for making friends, getting entertainment, shopping, seeking information, etc. However, as Andy Chun (City University of Hong Kong) pointed out, the more intensively they use internet and mobile devices, the less time they spend in direct social contact and personal interactions with others.

Technology advanced development: Challenges or opportunities?

Technology advance, the vast amount of available knowledge, and fast changes lead to an unprecedented situation about which no one is an expert in terms of mastering enough knowledge to solve a particular problem. Academic disciplines are becoming fragmented. Specialists from different fields of expertise need to work on an issue together to produce a solution or product. Therefore, knowledge itself is less important than applying knowledge (King L. Chow, HKUST, Hong Kong). The emerging trend of the 21st century higher education is effective dissemination of knowledge and sharing of experiences.

How does technology affect research performance? Anders Karlsson (Vice-President, Elsevier) presented data showing the increase in international collaborative and co-authored research articles. He also pointed out that technology changed the way we collect and use data, as well as the way researchers work together. New concepts need to be defined, such as plagiarism and co-authorship.

Sun Hye Hwang (Sookmyung Women’s University, Korea), the director of a hundred years-old university for women, stated that technology development has brought enormous oppoturnities to the students at least in two dimensions: providing higher education access to disadvantage students, and expanding knowledge beyond the school’s rigid curriculum. But it is also bringing new challenges. Dam Quang Minh  (FPT University, Viet Nam) argued that alongside the great advantages, technology development has also brought significant challenges: university lecturers now can no longer continue teaching as before, due to the fact that students today use technology devices much more proficiently than previous generations; they can access enormous amount of information and can verify immediately what teachers are saying.

The dependence on communication devices and the internet, as well as being constantly digital connected intensively to social network make the i-generation more demanding, focus on their own needs rather social issues and public goods aspects. Sun Hye Huang pointed out that when emphasizing the opportunities that technology brings to, we have lost focus on investing to build citizen skills for learners, which is not just knowledge and skills, but also emotional and social connections.

The university of tomorrow

What does the university of tomorrow look like? Will online learning become the norm, or blended learning? Can students personalize their study by combining several selective courses from various universities? How can we ensure quality of the degrees in such circumstances?

Kumiko Aoki (Open University, Japan) argued that the university of tomorrow will be very different: its will not only equip students with knowledge and degrees but create knowledge and establish social connections. The university of tomorrow will focus on learning outcomes and competence-based pedagogies. Credits wil not be counted by time spending to courses but on the basis of the competencies acquired.

The university of today is featured by a set of traditional characteristics: delivery by oral lecturing; learners sit and listen passively, focus on job security, based on centralized curriculum, closed learning outcome assessment and evaluation, use of paper and pen. The university of tomorrow will rely on audio visual materials; students learning by experiencing and practicing; aimed at common and fundamental skills needed for any kind of career; flexible curriculum, focus on cooperation and central role of the learners; use of computers, ipad and mobile (Andy, City University of Hong Kong).

The university of tomorrow will operate in a totally different manner compared to traditional institutions: Joon Heo (Yonsei University) argued that 65% children today will eventually do jobs that do not exist yet. Are today’s universities ready for the i-generation? Nguyen Ngoc Vu (Ho Chi Minh City University of Education, Vietnam) organized an M-learning course and surveyed 111 students of English Department in his school to find out the answer. Vietnam, a country of 92 million population, 134,066,000 active mobile phone subcriptions; 20,000,000 active Facebook users; 4h37m average internet time spent by users each day, 1 h 43 m average time spent every day using a mobile phone. Vu’s findings showed that 86.5% people have internet access at home; however 73.2% users have never taken online courses. 70% agreed that M-learning helped them perform better than traditional learning. Regarding outcomes, 100% of graduates achieved international C 1 level. It means that Vietnamese students, at least in cities, are ready for studying on the move, but schools are very slowly responding to this new reality.

Do the universities today meet the need of industry and labour market? Tae Eog Lee (Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) argued that the gaps between the skill set provided by schools and the needs of industry are quite common around the world. From an industry perspective, Obert Hoseanto (Microsoft Indonesia) said that the company must retrain graduates so that they are able to perform as needed in working place. However, he argued that the industry’needs are always specific and temporarily, while university should uphold deeper values with much further vision and equip the students with more fundamental skills and competencies. Focusing exclusively on the needs of industry in university’s strategies might have a risk of narrowing university missions to become too specific and instrumental.

The future of higher education

Concern about the future of higher education was shared by many participants of the conference. Many schools have adopted massive online open courses (MOOC) or blended mode in their programs. What does the future of MOOC, online learning, M-learning look like? Will they replace the brick and mortar universities of today? Clayton Christensen predicted that the bottom 25% of every tier will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years (New York Times, 01,11.2013).

MOOCs obviously bring a new platform and new experiences that did not exist in traditional schools. Simon Nelson (Futurelearn) argued that higher education is not open to all. It is discriminative. It used to be the privilege of wealthy or brilliant  people or at least, well-develop intellectually. MOOCs are changing the education industry: they provide open source format (free) in an open platform without barriers for anybody.  Joon Heo provides the images of various dishes of instant noodles as the same as the educational buffet of today: we can select whatever we want and learn as much as we can.

Huang Hoon Chng (National University of Singapore) quoted findings of a survey of Provosts by Scott Jaschik (2013): 47 percent of all provosts strongly or very strongly agree that MOOCs could threaten the business model of their universities. However, someone pointed out that students study ONLY when they pay tuition fees and ONLY when teachers give them homework to be graded later. Under these assumptions shouldn’t we say that MOOC’s immediate future is rather limited? Or, in other words, there is a long way to go for MOOCs to be the winner over the traditional institutions of today.

Many people think that higher education is facing uncertain future, due to the fact that many things are still unknown, and what we know might change quickly. However, as many others, Simon Nelson trusts that tomorrow is not the end of higher education. It will probably change but not be replaced.

The most significant feature of the higher education in the future is that it will be mass education. However, it is worth mentioning that, beside the expansion of access, there is a growing tendency to personalize study programs. Men are created unequal, therefore we won’t have a one-size-fits-all education. Chow pointed out that there are things missing in many higher education institutions: how to arouse students’s interest in exploring new interdisciplinary areas, engage them with immersion of practices to internalize knowledge; develop their own interest instead of leading them towards pre-determined interests, and self discovery. Advanced technology allows personalization to be possible. The tendency of the future would not be to train graduates as mass products but to help students discover themselves, focusing on their own ability, aspirations and talents, so that they could make their own choice, pursue their own way at their own pace. This is a prerequisite for creativity which is vital for nurturing talents.

Although the voting results at the conference pointed that almost all participants see the future of higher education in an optimistic manner, many have common concerns about the challenges it is facing and the needs for change. Higher education has become a massive system, fueled by significant changes in student characteristics, and the context in which it operates. The global race for talent is an inevitable reality. Government, industry, and university leaders should have a more active dialogue to meet the needs of the rapidly evolving digitally connected world. National policy has a special influence in producing and making use of talents. Universities have no reason to exist if they still operate in a traditional way in front of an i-generation better equipped with technology devices, and absorbing a lot more information than their parents’s generation.

Technology development has changed our lives, especially how we work and communicate with each other. Today’s context is much different from the one just a decade ago; and tomorrow will be even more different. Therefore many concepts need to be redefined, including the concept of university. The university of the future will have a new shape and play new roles in the society.


The author would like to express her sincere thanks to British Council Vietnam and FPT University for financial support so that she can attend the Dialogue. She also wishes to thank the colleagues Phan Thi Cam and Dam Quang Minh who kindly reviewed earlier drafts of this paper, with suggestions and and comments offered. Special thanks go to Dr. Jamil Salmi for invaluable feedback and revision. Full responsibility for errors and misinterpretations remains, however, with the author.