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Higher Education: Press Refresh

Analyses - 19 July 2017

By Institut Montaigne

This article is written by Gilles Babinet, digital entrepreneur and co-president of Institut Montaigne's work group "Enseignement supérieur et numérique : connectez-vous !" and Edouard Husson, vice-president of the PSL Research University.

If the time has come for you to make a career change, perhaps you should consider entering the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, where talent is needed. By 2020, a whole 800,000 jobs will be vacant in this field, according to the European Commission… The number is impressive, yet it represents only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the challenges our societies are currently facing.

The digital revolution encompasses our whole economy and job market, far beyond the sole ICT sector. Michel de Montaigne once said he preferred brains “well-formed” to ones “well-filled”. 500 years later, his analysis remains spot-on. From general education to strictly digital skills, we must think about which competences are most needed in the digital age – like critical thinking, anticipation and creativity.

The higher education system thus faces a double challenge: it needs to both train more graduates to digital jobs, and adapt its entire structure to the realities of a society engaged in a new era.

Moreover, this very system faces a number of issues (school dropout, increase in the number of students etc.), which a digital revolution could help to solve. Such a reform could renovate and boost the quality of teaching tools and models, lower university dropout rates by personalising curricula and improving academic orientation and students’ employability, and reinforce the attractiveness of universities.

This path seems to be where France’s recent history of educational institutions is leading the country. Significant efforts have been made over the past decade to grant universities and schools more autonomy. Time has come to go a step further and let them control their own data, and invest in open innovation. This is what it takes for universities to fully enter and benefit from the digital age.

We therefore need to conceive new education models, which will promote individual creativity and collective work, encourage thinking outside the box and promote experimentation. Such models should support multidisciplinarity, teach core subjects and advocate for regular back-and-forths between fundamental and applied research.

In the years to come, countries’ social and economic performance will largely depend on their capacity to implement an ambitious digital strategy, combined with a human capital living up to modern world expectations. Institut Montaigne has, after a thorough analysis of the situation and of existing opportunities, formulated a set of ten proposals on how to achieve this change in France. An opportunity not to be missed.



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