The University of the Future
Last weekend we – my wife and I –took the chance to visit the university our son enrolled this autumn. It is called IE-university, it is international, meaning the tuition is mostly in English and it is private. It is located in the beautiful ancient city of Segovia, 100 km north of Madrid (for master degree they have another campus in Madrid). The more I learn about it - through my son mostly - the more I am fascinated.
This university has hardly any big lecture type of classes. Most of the tuition takes place in small groups, in and out of classroom. Every class asks for active participation of the students. In the classroom, students are packed in the front, not in the back as tend to be the cases with our classes in Finland. Student to professor ratio is 12:1, which the roughly the rate of Stanford. Our universities are light-years from those numbers.
Of course, you might argue that these universities are only for the rich people, with 18K fee for the year. Not exactly true, because 60%of those accepted are giving grant. The university is run with the principle that no talented applicant, if fit to university, should be left out because of financial reasons. This year my son was not successful in competing for the grants because of rush from developing countries students with less wealthy background. But he is now determined to build a showcase of performance for the next year’s grant application round (they have different application classes). According to my son, apart from some Arab country descendants who appear to university mornings with their Ferrari, the other students are living normal student life with tight budgets.
The application process was a most interesting one: first they wanted the applicant to build a case why exactly student wants to study in the IE University. Applicants need to write an extensive essay on this topic. This was coupled with interviews, face-to-face or skype. The university was particularly interested in the social role the applicant had played in the communities he had been involved: in the high school, in hobbies and so forth. They obviously want students who are proactive and capable to stand out and make a point.
Students are mostly of descendants of the families that have international background in terms of their experience. So it is with our Teiko too: he attended the tenth year class in the international IB-school in Munich while I was working for Allianz. Once there is experience of being in the multicultural environment it doesn’t leave you. Teiko says it is a kind of tribe who share something important together.
My son was willing to take on the study path for dual degree (international law & business). It means 15 hour study load per day, eased with evenings when Iranian schoolmate may provide an evening meal coupled with introduction to traditional games of his home region. Students take the full stock of their diverse backgrounds.
Strolling in the campus area, you cannot escape the positive energy you sense all over. Students we met were very helpful and friendly. The class rooms are carefully designed to support sharing which means less traditional set-up along juxtaposition between teacher and students. Everywhere there is a sense of simple beauty and design: you see a lot of natural materials around in terms of extensive use of stones wood-materials. Someone has designed this much more a learning rather than teaching environment.
In the sixth wave, in the coming decades, our universities are bound for radical change. Not only is the operating environment changing with new digital spaces but also the aspirations of the students are changing. Just two weeks ago I ran an extensive course on strategic foresight in Aalto University for master degree students. I was shocked by how many of those students enrolled for the course were actually absent from the classes. It was around the half of the bunch. When talking to colleagues and students I learned this is customary (not so with our own master program in Turku). Something is dead wrong but what? To start off with something, at least there is a need to employ the kind of didactic and pedagogy that motivate the students to participate.
Here in IE-campus in Segovia there seems to be no such problem. Students are active and take great responsibility of their studies. Professors are dedicated to students. And this happens in the environment that is beautiful and supports learning. Moreover, access to funding is not a differentiating factor.
What more could ask for from the University of the Future?