Higher education 4.0: trans/inter-disciplinarity and Innovation-Creativity for development

Friday - 04/01/2019 03:02
On the occasion of new year 2019, USSH had an interview with Assoc.Prof.Dr Hoang Anh Tuan (Vice Rector in charge of academic and student affairs of USSH, VNU Hanoi) about the University's perceptions, viewpoints and orientations of development in the coming time.
Higher education 4.0: trans/inter-disciplinarity and Innovation-Creativity for development
Higher education 4.0: trans/inter-disciplinarity and Innovation-Creativity for development


- Dear Assoc.Professor, in some recent forums, you have mentioned the need for innovations in producing human resources in the context of "new" and "different" job markets in the near future, in which you mentioned such concepts as "the VUCA World" and Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0). Can you further elaborate these concepts?

"The VUCA World" is a concept introduced decades ago, by combining the first letters of four words Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity and it was used by US' forces during the cold war, and later frequently by economists to refer to a disorderly financial market. Recently, many international higher education experts have used this concept to describe the unpredictable changes in labor markets as the IR 4.0 strongly impacts job opportunities.

Mrs. Cáit Moran (Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to Vietnam) visits USSH as the University welcomes the first batch of students majoring International Development Studies at Faculty of International Studies

Report "The future of jobs" by the World Economic Forum (WEF) released in 2016 estimated that: "65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist". Also according to WEF's forecast, during the period of 2015-2020, for every 6 million jobs lost only around 2 million jobs will be created. Jobs in the public sector will decrease while new ones will mostly be found in high-tech and management sectors. In fact, the disturbances in job markets under the impact of modern technologies were foreshadowed many decades ago. For example, 20 years ago, the US Department of Labor announced a ratio of 65% as did WEF. Recently in 2017, Dell Technologies Inc. even provided a larger number: in the next 10 years, around 85% of workers will enter jobs that don't yet exist.

Mrs. Wendy Matthews (Ambassador of New Zealand to Vietnam) and representatives of the embassies of Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. participated in the Conference "Southeast Asian studies in Vietnam: Prospects and Challenges" held on November 14th, 2018.

- So given the existing and new challenges, is it true that not only students but also lecturers and training institutions have to innovate?

Innovation-creativity is an inevitable trait of any organizations or sociaties. Without it development is impossible. Higher education is not an exception and has to catch up with the current rapid technological and job trends. I have talked about some of the challenges faced by universities today.

First, the increasingly higher demands from employers of students' qualities and skills in addition to professional knowledge require USSH to innovate by balancing the provision of knowledge with the provision of skills and positive thinking for students.  Universities' training affairs are in danger of falling behind the new demands caused by fluctuations in job markets. 

Introduction of the Dako Scholarship for USSH's students - a symbol of the close and flexible connection between business-USSH-alumni (October 3rd, 2018)

Second, students increasingly demand not only a learning environment and knowledge but other services such as facilities, equipment, self-study spaces, canteens, opportunities to do internships or go on field trips (especialy to foreign countries), clubs for special interest, extracurricular activities, the university-business connection and career counseling. There is an existential reality: the philosophy "study hard to live easily" of 20th century's students are considered "skewed" by 21st century's students that regard studying at universities "not merely as a preparation for life, but as life itself". Thus, universities in the world invest more and more in facilities to attract and encourage students to work and live right at campuses and thus remain attached to them. 

Third, there is a risk of decreasing numbers of students majoring traditional disciplines, especially the already unpopular basic sciences. In recent years, the total number of Vietnamese students at domestic universities has regularly declined, while that of overseas students has strongly increased, not to mention "stationary students" pursuing distance or online courses provided by foreign universities, and international joint programs with domestic institutions. According to an annual report titled "Open Doors" by the Institute of International Education, the number of Vietnamese studying in the US has increased consistently in 17 years, reaching 24.325 in 2018, meaning over 800 million USDs have been transferred from Vietnam to the US, not to mention the Vietnamese students in other foreign countries.

USSH signs an MOU with Intracom Group on providing human resources for it

Fourth, the shift of job opportunities for graduates to non-public sectors (private, international, non-governmental, start-up sectors) requires a restructuring of training curricula and the length of classroom's sessions, the development of integrated skills and the proactiveness and positive thinking of students so they are able to adapt to different working environments in the future. The World International Summit of Education in New York on September, 2018 emphasized the importance of teaching a "life-long learning" thinking because knowledge gained at universities will become quickly out-of-date. Therefore, only when equipped with a life-long and regular learning outlook can workers adapt to the changes in future career.

Fifth, the stagnant innovation in higher education governance is what education experts have been warning about, especially for universities in the public sector. This leads to failure to catch up with global higher education trends, regressed thinking, the inability to forecast the trends of labor markets or even to recognize the changes in students' demands, causing higher education governance to lag behind their increasingly higher requirements. 

- So, one of the existing risks can be found in the "datedness" and "staticity" of current training majors compared to the "novelty" and "mobility" of jobs in the future?

The current structure of majors generally progresses more slowly than the advancement of job and labor markets, especially in the context of the fourth industrial revolution. However, to be fair, the structure introduced by the Vietnamese government is not entirely "static" or "closed" but amended with the suggesstions given by training institutions. Thus, universities have to recognize both their rights and responsibilities in creating new programs based on future demands for human resources, implement them in practice, then make suggestions to the Ministry of Education and Training on creating new majors. For example, over two decades ago, USSH was the first institution to launch Tourism studies, which has been recognized as an official major by the government.

USSH's students participate in a admission festival held by Youth Newspaper

- But beside the issue of majors, there is another issue of job titles and occupations in society, so how are these two issues supposed to be thought of in the new context of labor markets?

Before, discources on "majors" and "professions" are mentioned in close and organic connection with each other. According to normal thinking, graduates tend to find jobs that correspond to the majors they were trained in, which go with the respective job titles and codes provided by the government. However, in recent years, the "major-profession" boundary becomes more and more blurred and it has been popular to choose a profession not similar to one's trained major. After all, this is common in every society given the current trends of labor markets, the workforce in developed countries and Vietnam's domestic policies, especially the strategy of reducing personnel and repositioning staff, officers and officials according to Resolution 18 and Resolution 19 issued at the 6th Plenum of the 7th Party Central Committee.  

Foreign bachelors and masters of Vietnamese studies at USSH

The most important thing is training institutions have to quickly and thoroughly recognize the above reality to properly restructure their majors. In addition to introducing new majors for training human resources in a 4.0 society, they can reduce the amount of credits attached to old majors or combine relevant majors to create new ones. When human resources are no longer needed in a major it should be abandoned despite our nostalgic and regretful feelings, save for some basic disciplines required by every society and in which the state regularly invests.

Given the recent developments in labor markets and employment trends in the next decade, what needs to be taken in consideration is how to combine the three elements: "major" of the Ministry - "profession" of the teachers - and "career" of the students. While the state has been rather liberal in arranging majors and markets have made known of their developments to students, lecturers and universities have to resolutely and actively serve as the bridge between students and employers. In other words, whoever is a Teacher has to be continuously innovative and creative to both maintain his passion and profession and ensure the creation of new majors that provide enough job opportunities to students in the digital era.

- So what is the general charasteristic of the system of majors in the future?

Many viewpoints have been proposed. I personally think that inter-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity will constitute the main feature of the higher education ecology as it is currently guided by the principle of connectivity and innovation-creativity. 

For a rather long time, Vietnamese higher education has been pursuing narrow and specialized training. Special majors do have their advantages, but in the digital era of artificial intelligence and the internet of things, inter-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity prove to be more advantageous. Recently education experts have regularly mentioned the "T-shaped people" model based on the combination of knowing something about everything and knowing everything about something (which belongs to the former I-shaped People). The new reality requires prospective workers to have broad knowledge and integrate many problem-solving skills rather than only specialized and narrow abilities, which can be provided for by artificial intelligence. For example, in many nations today, single positions such as hotel receptionist, tour guide, and sales staff have been completely taken over by robots, and in the near future, more complicated jobs such as interpretation, law counseling, and teaching can also be performed by AI. Thus, human resources in the 4.0 era need to combine knowledge from different disciplines and be equipped with inter-disciplinary and multi-area knowledge, positive thinking and integrated skills.

The Rumbo cheerleading team formed by USSH's students

Especially, in addition to scientific and technological knowledge (STEM), the utmost importance of philosophy, ethics, humanities and arts have been emphasized. At the recent International Education Summit, President of the Institute of International Education (IIE) Allan Goodman said technologies that can transform society on a large-scale need to be supplemented by a strong ethical foundation, and ethical and moral judgments can become revolutionary in the 4.0 era. 

- What advantages do USSH have when implementing inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary and the spirit of innovation-creativity?

USSH in particular as well as VNU Hanoi in general is well provided to train human resources in the digital era because it is a leading multi-disciplinary and multi-area higher education institution that neatly combines basic and applied sciences in Vietnam. With social sciences and humanities, in addition to maintaining the basic sciences, which are necessary for every nation-state, the University is introducing "hybrid" majors by combining existing ones. For example, apart from International studies and Anthropology, the University is developing the major "International development studies"; and beside 3 existing majors of Sociology, Social Work and Psychology, it is going to develop two applied hybrid majors of Aging and Social development. 

Psychotherapy in particular needs inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary knowledge

In addition, some majors and minors that connect different blocks of majors are being developed at VNU Hanoi, for instance between the Economics block and the Social Sciences and Humanities block there are going to be such programs as Management Economics, Tourism Economics, Journalism-Communication Economics; or those that bridge the Economics with the Natural Science and Technology blocks. Certainly, inter-disciplinarity and the basic sciences are a great advantage of VNU and its member universities for developing inter-disciplinary/trans-disciplinary majors in light of the 4.0 era.

Author: Thanh Ha

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