Magazine article The Futurist

The University of the Future. (Society)

Magazine article The Futurist

The University of the Future. (Society)

Article excerpt

The increasingly important role of knowledge in twenty-first-century society could create profound changes on university campuses, according to Frank H.T. Rhodes, president emeritus of Cornell University.

"The university is being forced to make choices regarding how to respond to globalization, information technology, and the chance to serve a host of new clients and take on a formidable array of new functions," writes Rhodes in The Creation of the Future, an analysis of the modern research university.

The traditional university library will become a web of information networks and data banks. Virtualreality technology could transform laboratories into international "collaboratories," according to Rhodes.

A worldwide pool of lifelong learners (nonresident, part-time, or older students taking advantage of distance-learning technology) could eventually outnumber the traditional college-age students who live on campus and attend classes full-time. Professors may be jolted by a reorganization of career paths, compensation, and accountability. Many faculty members will join one or more virtual communities and deliver specialized expertise and support online.

Universities in the future could evolve along widely divergent paths, according to Rhodes, who suggests two distinct models of what schools of the future could look like: Unmanageable U and Unimaginable U.

Unmanageable U would be like a sprawling, wired city full of researchers, teachers, students, and members of the community moving in diverse directions. It is a dynamic, expanded university-embracing more functions, reaching more kinds of students, and networked to everywhere and everybody. It would employ legions of professionals in a variety of evolving disciplines. Its real and virtual communities would temporarily collaborate on one kind of project and then break away to pursue other interesting tasks. "The campus would become boundless, its reach limitless, its ambitions infinite," writes Rhodes. "It would be a challenging, restless, undisciplined, freewheeling, sprawling, exciting place."

Unimaginable U, by contrast, would seem straitlaced and plodding. It is an institution that chooses to protect its central mission at all costs and sell off or close all "peripheral" facilities, including museums, hospitals, theaters, and radio stations. …

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