Sunday September 24, 2017

Reimagining the university for the 21st century

The tradition university needs to adapt, says Cathy Davidson.

The tradition university needs to adapt, says Cathy Davidson.

Listen 13:55

The university is out of date.

That's the view of Cathy Davidson, an English professor and the director of the Futures Initiative at the City University of New York.

In her latest book, The New Education: How to revolutionize the university to prepare students for a world in flux,  Cathy argues that the current model, designed in the 19th century, doesn't fit the realities facing students today as they prepare to enter a vastly different workforce than their great-grandparents.

"They were dealing with industrialization, urbanization, and the massive new global corporation," Cathy says of the university 100 years ago. "Now we're dealing with outsourcing, contingent labour, and jobs that can be automated overnight."

Cathy Davidson

Cathy Davidson

For example, the idea of "majors," where students focus deeply on a single subject, and don't mingle with students studying other subjects, is particularly outdated, she says. Very few jobs today rely on the expertise of a single field. Rather, work is done collaboratively, with people who are well-rounded in their knowledge being most successful.

"There are very few scientific inventions that don't have a social, historical component that it's important to understand."

Besides eliminating the idea of majors and minors, universities should borrow from community colleges and have their professors focus more on pedagogy. Community college instructors teach for the 100 per cent, Cathy says. Universities teach for the top five per cent.

Universities need to understand they they are preparing students for a digital age, and "not in the world of the Model T and the telegraph."