In 2018, the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) published its first review of developing trends in higher education and the workplace, which focused on the disruptive effects in these two areas of technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. With that report, titled Emerging Technologies in Higher Education and the Workplace: An Assessment, IFCU initiated the yearly publication of a broad overview of the state of higher education and labor that would also provide reflection on emerging and developing trends, and on where they may lead. The 2019 iteration, Higher Education Today and Tomorrow: A Critical Assessment, examined in sharper focus a number of evolving tech-based policies and practices in universities – some shaped by the need to accommodate the changing demands of the labor market – with a view to fostering a debate on the possible adverse effects of these transformations.
These two reports have now been joined in a single volume with the intention of offering member universities and the higher education community at large a wide picture of the momentous challenges currently being faced by colleges and universities across the world.
The backdrop to this initiative is the unprecedented level of disruption that the advent of information technologies, automation, robotization, artificial intelligence and machine learning are now wreaking on our societies, in particular through their transformative impact on, put simply, what learning and working is bound to mean for generations to come. Often compared to previous movements of epoch-making proportions such as the (First) Industrial Revolution, which disrupted the nature of labor in Europe and beyond through the 19th century, the Fourth Industrial Revolution that began developing at the turn of the 21st century has already taken on one additional, singular dimension: that of a pace of change unprecedented in the history of humankind, whose effect is to narrow ever so rapidly the window of foreseeability. This poses massive challenges for societies at large, and for higher education in particular.
The commoditization of higher education that has emerged over the past two decades has already upended the operating model of institutions of higher learning in many parts of the world. As members of governance bodies in universities strive to adapt to the new, perplexing landscape of developing technologies, it is of the utmost importance that they keep abreast of these trends and of their import and potential consequences – whether in the form of new opportunities or of systemic crises that require a full reassessment of operating models and fundamental objectives.
With these two reports, alongside regular like-minded events and programs, IFCU positions itself as a consultative entity that aims to provide its member universities and the higher education sector at large with the information and thought-provoking contents that can help stakeholders make enlightened managerial decisions to weather the historic upheaval that the transformations underway are carrying in their wake. Beyond this pragmatic and direct goal, IFCU also seeks to foster a more extensive debate at society level on the broader economic, social, ethical, philosophical and spiritual transformations involved in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The following reports should be viewed as a stepping stone toward this goal.