Devising Futures for Universities in a Multi-Level Structure: A Methodological Experiment
Technological Forecasting & Social Change, Vol. 75 (2008), No. 4, pp. 558–582
25 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2010 Last revised: 29 Aug 2015
Date Written: February 1, 2008
Universities have traditionally been key players in producing and validating new scientific knowledge, but other actors have also become major research performers. Meanwhile, the notion of research has been extended considerably, and the environment of universities is also undergoing fundamental changes. Thus, it is timely to consider alternative futures for them, to be better prepared for their new roles. A review of recent works on the future of higher education shows that the starting point in these exercises is either an existing or an abstract university. This approach has three major shortcomings: (i) the broader socio-economic systems, in which universities operate, are not addressed in these analyses, and thus neither the potential changes in these broader settings, nor their impacts on higher education can be explored; (ii) the huge diversity of higher education systems and individual universities cannot be reflected; (iii) the role of other research actors, and more importantly, the links among universities and those other research players are often disregarded.
This article offers an alternative approach, using the case of EU universities as an example, to rectify these shortcomings. A set of ‘cascading’ visions are devised to demonstrate the close links between three levels. First, alternative futures are developed for the EU by considering (i) the overall rationale of EU policies; and (ii) the standing of the EU vis-à-vis the Triad. Second, the different directions are identified, in which the European Research and Innovation Area can evolve. Third, skipping the national level, futures are built for the universities themselves, focusing on their research activities.
The modest intention of the futures presented in this paper is to demonstrate how to use the proposed new approach, and initiate meaningful and lively dialogues among stakeholders. Their diverse accumulated knowledge and experience, as well as distinct viewpoints are indispensable for building policy-relevant visions. The proposed three-level structure of futures – or ‘cascading’ visions – offers several advantages for policy-makers at various levels, the stakeholders of universities, as well as academics interested in prospective analysis of innovation systems.
Keywords: Alternative Futures for the EU; The European Research and Innovation Area (ERIA) and Universities; Trends and Drivers for Changes; Multi-Level Governance
JEL Classification: I21, I23, I28, O38, O52, D81
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation