News & Events
April, 2015
Riyadh Conference Statement
The 21st Century University
15-16 April 2015, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia

The world has changed dramatically. Advances in technology and the many ways in which it has become integrated into modern life have pushed the traditional university paradigm to its limit and now require new thinking about what universities teach, how they teach, how they develop a research strategy, and how they engage with society. Higher education has become more essential to social and economic wellbeing, and universities are the focus of progressively higher expectations and their reticence to undertake major reform has provoked much criticism from the larger society.
Policy makers too often rely on their own outdated experiences when it comes to policy development or institutional strategies. Professionalization in academic leadership needs to go hand in hand with governance reforms. These reforms must reflect the complex reality of the 21st century university.

The needs and realities of a new generation of students
Most students have already had considerable experience with computers and the Internet long before beginning university study. They take for granted the information available to them with a simple click, often as near as their phone. Attention spans are shorter; results are immediate; expectations are that new experiences will be entertaining; information will be conveyed through appealing graphics, etc. Students have had more exposure to international culture; in many ways, they are more sophisticated and versatile than their predecessors.

Student access to endless sources of information has not always been accompanied by personal or intellectual maturity. The 21st century professor must guide students to develop an ability to apply knowledge effectively to changing realities in their personal and professional lives. To be successful graduates will need more than professional knowledge; they will need new transversal skills such as adaptability, resilience, creativity and innovation, collaborative skills, ethics, and a global perspective. Additionally, student populations and enrolment patterns are more diverse than ever. Few universities have developed strategies for the successful integration of students of different ages, nationalities, minority groups, etc. let alone for students who engage with degree study for different purposes, using new virtual platforms to participate.

Preparing the next generation of teachers and scholars
Expectations of professors have increased almost beyond reason. The currency by which professors continue to be rewarded is their research productivity and publication output. Yet, increasingly students are viewed as “customers” and professors as providers of a service. Professors are expected to engage students in active learning; measure and achieve learning outcomes; accommodate the needs of individual learners; integrate new instructional technology; and motivate their students in the process. Today, professors must respond to challenges for which they are not well prepared.

Universities must shape policies that will reward and motivate young faculty but also provide support to junior and senior faculty alike to help them develop new pedagogical skills and ensure that mounting expectations of performance can be met. Career pathways must adapt to the new reality of greater complexity and interdisciplinarity. In most leading universities advanced research is undertaken by teams of researchers, frequently from multiple disciplines. New mechanisms for evaluating and rewarding faculty performance are greatly needed.
Finally, there is an uneven distribution of well-qualified scholars in the world, leaving nations to compete for international talent or to be at risk of losing native talent.

Addressing the needs of society
Universities today are viewed as sources of new knowledge, innovation, future employees and citizens of modern societies. To address these multiple expectations, universities will need to forge closer bonds with the world beyond the campus—government, industry and modern society.
The 21st century economy requires flexible and independent thinking, skills in writing and logic, and related competencies that are more often the product of interdisciplinary studies. The graduates of today may face a succession of career choices rather than traditional training in one field for one lifetime career. Universities need to reform curricula and study structures in order to prepare students to confront societal needs in the future. All nations face enormous challenges in relation to the environment, the use of resources, public health, etc. and, as a result, require that university students develop a sense of their place in the larger world.

Operating in an increasingly interdependent and globalized world
University graduates are now more mobile across the world than ever before. Universities must therefore adopt internationalization as a key element of their institutional strategy. They must ensure that their students and faculty develop cross-cultural competencies, and they must seize the many opportunities available for collaborating with other universities across the world in addressing the major global challenges.
On the other hand, globalization has resulted in commercialization of higher education and competitiveness among universities, to the detriment of the public good ethos of universities. This has also led to greater concerns for quality provision of higher education, an issue that needs to be addressed at national, regional and international levels.

The challenges confronting the 21st century university are dramatically different than those of the last century. However, institutions remain slow to change. Most universities continue as though the realities of the 21st century are a continuation of the 20th. If universities are going to continue to be relevant to modern societies, serious reform will be essential.
We end with the following questions:
• What is the future of universities that reject the necessity of change?
• Can the university find a way to value scholars who excel as teachers as much as they value those who conduct research?
• What will be the balance of classroom and virtual learning by the end of the next decade? Is it reasonable to expect that students will continue to sit in a classroom and listen for the entirety of their academic program?
The answers will become evident in the course of time. It is left to policymakers and university leadership to decide whether to shape these outcomes or not.



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