Isn’t it time to change our minds?

By Elena Alban.

On the 24th and the 25th October 2019, the 8th University-Business forum was held at Mont Des Art, in Bruxelles. The Forum brought together policymakers, representatives from higher education, business and other stakeholders to discuss and debate the role of university-business cooperation for innovation and sustainable development. The conferences that took place were focused on the actual need of integrating university training with the activity of firms. Entrepreneurship, sustainability and digitalization have been at the centre of the debates.

It was underlined the importance of creating a strong cooperation between students’ learning and their involvement into the labour and market world. This necessity was supported by the fact that it must be part of the priority agenda of politics, economics and education adopting both different technics of teaching and learning at university and a different approach toward education by entrepreneurs and firms.

During the conferences, it was highlighted the fact that a mutual relationship exists between the market world and the educational one. Firms should invest in higher education and universities in order to promote research and development from which they themselves can benefit. Universities should accept the evolution to which knowledge is subjected nowadays, especially due to the digital revolution of the last decades. We are not talking about a kind of knowledge that lasts for some times (as in the past); we are talking about an ongoing changing knowledge, that develops day by day. It is in this context that universities should adopt an approach more focused on making students become more proactive, more challenging and creative toward the external world, in order to offer to the labour market human capital able to keep up the speed of the technological and digital challenges.

A key-point of the conference was, indeed, the concept of lifelong learning, meaning the fact that due to all these types of evolutions (from the educational to the digital to the environmental ones), learning (at all ages) never ends, neither for firms as for universities.

The university-business cooperation was so included in a broader framework based on sustainable development. Borhene Chakroun, secretiariat of UNESCO, reminded the goals of the 2030 Millennium Agenda, among which poverty and inequality, sustainable development, digitalization, gender equality, health, climate change and education are the main top priorities and he emphasized how important is to create a stronger link between innovation, education and entrepreneurship in order to face these challenges.

The Forum was a great space of discussion and confrontation and brilliant and smart ideas from universities, start ups and companies were exposed during the meeting.

Anyway, to put them into action, it is necessary to consider also the type of space in which we are going to act.
All these beautiful projects risk to remain abstract ideas when introduced in the actual neoliberal context that is governing the world today.

We speak of entrepreneurship in a world that does not allow to take risks.

We speak of digitalization skills in a world that runs too fast, in a world that does not allow to the same creators of those skills the time to experience their new inventions, as other innovations are already required. In particular, digitalization is a subtle theme. There is no doubt on the necessity  of supporting technological and digital innovation for what concerns science and the study of the world around us, but we should look also at the other side of the medal: the risk concerns the fact that artificial intelligence could replace not only technical and scientific skills, but also human responsibilities that individuals should have toward the society and toward each other.

We speak of risking and being proactive. As highlighted from the forum panel “Developing an entrepreneurial culture”, firms do not risk, they do not invest on education and on research.

And do you know why?

Because education and research need time, a time that our economic system, aimed at increasing the value of its final production, is not able to conceive.

In this context it is difficult for a student to become proactive: they go out from an academic environment that did not teach them the ability to fail and they enter a labour market that does not allow them to fail.

There is the necessity to change our mind, to adopt a different approach toward education, work, business. We have not to be focused only on the final result of our action, but we need to look also at the way through which we can get the goals, because, as in the words of an Italian writer, “a tree with much foliage and few roots is uprooted at the first gust of wind. In a tree with many roots and few foliage, the sap barely flows. Roots and foliage must grow in equal measure, you have to stay in things and stand on them, so that in this way you can offer shade and shelter, in this way in the right season your tree will cover itself with flowers and fruits.” (Susanna Tamaro, 1994).