The University of the Future: Rethinking the role of universities worldwide in the face of the challenges of the 21st century

In a 21st century so far marked by crises and uncertainty, the university’s role is in dire need of evaluation. Intersecting fears about ecological degradation, climate change, economics, (geo)politics, and technological change call for more inter-and transdisciplinary forms of research and education. They call for rethinking what the university is and what it can or should be. At the same time, universities are increasingly looked to for solving societal and environmental challenges – but may also perpetuate or intensify such challenges.

Slowly recovering from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions in higher education are rethinking their roles and the impact they wish to make. Of imminent concern are the challenges that seem most likely to arise or intensify in the coming years:

  • Climate change and other environmental concerns
  • Uncertainties about the consequences of digitalization and artificial intelligence
  • Increasing inequalities within and across countries

How can universities contribute to a more sustainable and equitable future? Or, as the 2021 LERU summer school in Dublin asked, what is the role of the expert in today’s world? In short, what role can universities play in making the world a better place?

The LERU network in general, and Utrecht University in particular, aims to take the lead in addressing these questions. Specifically, it aspires to ask: what is the role of the university in the future? Or better, what is the university of the future? In this summer school, we propose to turn this into our focal point. Inviting interdisciplinary scientists and scholars and external speakers, the Utrecht University LERU summer school will critically reflect on and contemplate how universities could and should position themselves towards societal challenges and their relationship with society at large. This includes discussing questions such as: What is the societal role of universities? Is the university primarily a place for knowledge production and technology development, or does it have the responsibility to contribute more actively to handling societal challenges? Are there optimal or inspiring new ways for universities to relate to policymakers, politics, and society at large? What power structures do universities operate in – and how may they be complicit in maintaining them?

students raising their hands during lecture

LERU Summer School

The LERU Doctoral Summer School is an annual event aiming to provide doctoral candidates with unique professional and personal development opportunities beyond what they are generally exposed to during their PhD training. By creating an exceptional and truly international, intercultural and interdisciplinary meeting of bright young minds, the Summer School creates a highly stimulating learning experience which is of long-lasting value to the participants’ future careers. Participants are LERU university PhD candidates who are selected based on a university-wide competition.

Introduction on the 'Politics of the future'

by Jeroen Oomen

What is Futuring?

by Maarten Hajer

What are 'Techniques of Futuring'?

by Lisette van Beek