Being one of the partners of Accelerate Future HEI, Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (ViA) in Latvia aims to share valuable knowledge with partners and gain new experiences that will be useful for the university, the region, and the country. The project has already inspired new events, for example, during ViA International week 2023, the ViA team led the panel discussion “University transformation experience”. It highlighted this topic and explored what other ViA partner universities have to say about their transformational experience. The panelists discussed global events, how they are affected by globalization, and the consequences and threats of war, including the recent and still felt effects of Covid-19, rapid digitalization, generational changes, and many other events that are rapidly taking place that are changing the world irreversibly.
More than 60 lecturers, researchers, and cooperation partners from 15 countries and 21 universities attended ViA International week “Future University. Connecting regions”. Discussion focused on topics such as the university of the future, resilience, sustainability, digitalization, experimental ways of thinking, as well as support for Ukraine. The panel discussion “University transformation experience” fitted well into the theme of International week and gave the opportunity to hear the experiences, opinions and understanding of the nature of transformation in higher education from different universities. Representatives from 4 universities in 4 countries; Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (Latvia), University of Tartu Pärnu College (Estonia), National Institute of Tourism & Hospitality Management (India), Sankt Pölten University of Applied Sciences (Austria) participated in this panel discussion and shared their unique experience and ideas about the direction and need for transformation in different types of universities.
During this discussion, we became acquainted with the experience of transformation of HEI institutions in various fields and various levels, and it gave us insight into how different examples of transformation can be, what are the good practices of universities and what obstacles universities face when they want to transform things and their operations and promote growth.
Let us share some theses about the transformation potential and the main obstacles mentioned. The panelists highlighted some key changes that will shape the universities of the future:
- Digitalization: As the catalyst for change, digitalization has revolutionized every aspect of our lives, and higher education is no exception. From online courses to virtual classrooms, technology has opened up new avenues for learning and collaboration. Universities need to embrace this digital revolution to provide students with flexible learning opportunities, global connectivity, and access to resources. However, this transformation requires careful planning and investment in infrastructure, training faculty, and ensuring equitable access for all students.
- Generation changes: The current generation of students, often referred to as Generation Z, has grown up in a hyper-connected world. They are high-tech-thinking, value diversity, and seek practical, hands-on learning experiences. To meet their needs, universities must adopt innovative teaching methods, such as project-based learning, experiential learning, and interdisciplinary programs.
- Thinking and habit changes: This leads to shifting pedagogical paradigms. The traditional lecture-based approach to teaching is giving way to more interactive and student-centered learning methods. Active learning techniques, flipped classrooms, and peer collaboration fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. This shift requires faculty members to become facilitators of knowledge rather than mere content deliverers. It also calls for a re-evaluation of assessment methods, emphasizing competency-based evaluations and real-world applications.
- Teaching and learning changes: Students today value flexibility in their educational journey. Universities should offer modular programs, personalised learning paths to accommodate diverse interests and career goals.
- Industry collaboration: Collaboration with industry partners enhances the relevance of education by bridging the gap between academia and the jobs market. Internships, co-op programs, and industry-driven projects equip students with practical skills and increase their employability.
Obstacles in the transformation process:
- Resistance to change: Change can be met with resistance, particularly from faculty members who are comfortable with traditional teaching methods. Overcoming this resistance requires fostering a culture of innovation, providing professional development opportunities, and recognising and rewarding forward-thinking faculty. It is a big challenge to explain why we need to change.
- Financial problems: The transformation process requires significant investment in technology infrastructure, faculty training, and student support services. Universities must seek creative funding strategies and partnerships to overcome financial barriers
- Equity and access: Ensuring equal access to digital resources and opportunities for all students is crucial. Universities must address the digital divide, provide support for students from marginalised backgrounds, and create inclusive learning environments.
- External factors, for example, change in the study area, in the jobs market. The challenge to attract students for Masters level.
- Bureaucratic processes in universities and also at the government level can slow down the transformation process.
The main takeway of the conversation was that transformation is our new normal and inevitable at all levels. You should be very flexible, fast thinking, and use multidiscipline and international approaches to transform and change.
Iveta Putniņa Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences lead for Accelerate Future HEI shares her thoughts: “ViA highly values this opportunity to learn from the best in the field of entrepreneurial and innovative universities and to dive into the journey of transformational changes. We definitely choose to take this path one step at a time beside the professionals who can guide and support us. If we don’t sooner or later, we will end up with really dramatic changes in the higher education field which then are much more painful and difficult to absorb. We would like to provide the knowledge and experience about future challenges and opportunities for higher education, make a transformation in our university and create encouragement for other universities as well.”
The transformation of universities in the digital era is an ongoing process that demands a proactive and adaptive approach. By embracing digitalization, understanding the needs of the new generation, and reimagining pedagogy, universities can create dynamic, student-centric learning environments. Overcoming obstacles and leveraging preferences will pave the way for universities to remain relevant and provide quality education in the rapidly evolving world. This sets the scene for ViA in Accelerate Future HEI as it has to choose which Institutional transformation acceleration project to choose for the next phase. The full recording of the panel discussion is available here: