This is how we created our living strategy

Learning to learn and other trends

Aalto University will begin preparing a new strategy. To form a basis for this work, students were asked to explore what kinds of megatrends would affect the university’s future. The review extended as far into the future as 2035.
Megatrendit

Most reviews of the future predict that the pace at which the world is changing will increase. Unprecedented evolutionary forces are, in the wake of technological development, expected to target especially working life and the field of education that prepares people for it. What kind of a future is Aalto University getting ready for in its upcoming strategy? What trends will affect teaching and research, and, on the other hand, the existing and future Aalto community? 

Students were asked to pitch in the strategy preparation process, which is set to commence fully in 2019. Based on a review of various publications and expert interviews, a student group steered by Management Studies Professor Nina Granqvist defined five central trends that will affect the future of Aalto.

“Megatrends will bring changes to the university’s operating practices either directly or indirectly. Automation, for example, will increase the need to retrain the workforce, which in turn will boost demand for more flexible studies and add to competition in the educational sector,” says School of Business student Joona Orpana

Soft skills emphasised 

The need for lifelong learning is a trend, which is in many ways changing not only the educational sector, but also our everyday lives. Debate often focuses on the mastering of technical skills, but the interviews conducted by the working group also raised the growing significance of so-called soft skills like creativity.

“Technology is developing constantly, and recently acquired technical skills can only underwrite your competence for a little while. This is why the ability to learn new things, to understand yourself and others as well as to strive for change that accords with your own values are emphasised. Sustainable competence is created by combining hard and soft skills in learning,” says Orpana. 

The students and Granqvist all point out that the future is hard to predict. Megatrends are abstract, complex totalities, and it is challenging to foresee what combined effects they may have.

“It is important for the strategy work to consider the university’s vision as well as the plans employed to achieve it – but these plans must be flexible at all times. Evaluating the future is a continuous effort you engage in alongside day-to-day development work,” Granqvist says. 

Involving the community

Future strategy workshops and community discussions will benefit from the work done by the students. Community involvement is a central aspect of Aalto’s strategy work, says Development Director Sirkku Linna.  

“We want to make the process as open and transparent as possible – something that’s easy to get onboard with,” says Linna. 

“We are not just preparing to adapt to a changing world, we’re getting ready to shape the future into what we want it to be. Aalto is in a key position to, for example, develop technological breakthroughs and steer how technology shapes our reality.”

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Photo: A group of students representing the different fields of Aalto delved into the world of megatrends. The participants were Jacqueline German, Joona Orpana, Viktorija Piaulokaite and Andreas Gratz.

Five megatrends affecting the operating environment of Aalto

1. Disruptive technology mindset

The current pace of technological change is unprecedented. The exploitation of big data, artificial intelligence and quantum computers are shaping reality thoroughly. One way or another, life will revolve around technological upheavals.

“Members of the future Aalto community could avail of personal AIs in their studies, work and daily life. It might be possible to provide, for example, tailored teaching with their aid.” 

2. Radical business-university interdependence

The field of education is going through a transition. The need for continuous education is growing, while digitisation is also opening fresh opportunities for evolving markets. New actors, which will challenge the traditional role of universities, will enter the field of education.  

Universities must establish even stronger relationships with business in order to ensure that their training remains current as well as to safeguard their funding. Education and research will more often be arranged in cooperation between different actors.  

“Resources could be divided more diversely in the ecosystems that will grow between universities and businesses. Companies could have access to Aalto courses and research data, and, in return, corporate personnel would donate their time to the University by mentoring and giving lectures.”

3. Imperative environmental action 

Citizens, companies and states must all demonstrate greater responsibility for curbing climate change. Fundamental societal changes, which can shape the power structures that steer the global economy and encourage environmentally sound innovation, are needed.   

“Aalto has the opportunity to become world-famous as a promoter of sustainable solutions and wellbeing. Research activity is already focusing on many fields of central significance to the environment, like the circular economy as well as alternative energy and materials solutions.”

4. Changing power configurations 

The impact multinational corporations have on political decisions will increase, while, on the other hand, people’s interest in traditional participation will decrease. Inequality will grow at the same time. Democratic institutions will find themselves in a challenging situation. New ways to wield influence also on the global level will be needed.  

“Global challenges could be tackled on new types of political arenas, where decision-making is not dictated by states. Aalto’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, for example, could serve as one.” 

5. Long life purpose

The changes brought about by technological development and, in turn, lengthening lifespans translate into a continuous need to learn new things and update your knowledge. People’s roles and work tasks will change more frequently, and here education can play a part in providing meaning and significance to life.  

“Demand for, for example, multidisciplinary courses, expertise in soft skills and flexible studies that adjust according to work will grow. Alumni will return to the sphere of the university several times during their lives, which is a great opportunity to also utilise their competence in mentoring, for example.”

Text: Laura Siira

Photo and videos: Anna Berg

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