GFUP Session Three "Rethinking the Future and the New Mission of Online Education" held

The third session of the Global Forum of University Presidents 2021 (GFUP 2021) was held online on April 22nd. With the theme of “Rethinking the Future and the New Mission of Online Education,” this event aimed to gather ideas from global leaders and encourage universities to work together to tackle challenges and opportunities, envision the future of online education, and embark on a new journey of higher education to build more open, integrative and resilient universities. More than 80 representatives from 19 universities from 17 countries, including China, the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy, Israel, India, South Korea, and Singapore attended this session, with 25 of them exchanging views on online education in the form of keynote speeches.

Chen Xu, Chairperson of the Tsinghua University Council, delivered the welcome remarks for this session. Yang Bin, Vice President and Provost of Tsinghua University, served as the Academic Chair of this session, while Yuan Si, Vice Chairperson of the Tsinghua University Council, served as the moderator of the session.

Chen Xu pointed out that over the last 16 months, the world was faced with an incredible challenge, as COVID-19 threatened the lives of people and disrupted the missions of traditional campus-based universities across the world. Fortunately, through the integration of online technology and post-secondary pedagogy, teachers, students, faculty, and staff have been able to promptly mobilize online resources. Global efforts have been made to continue our core mission by addressing these challenges and embracing innovation.

Chen Xu stated that the profound changes, instabilities, and uncertainties we are facing in the world today remind us that “we are all together” with a shared future. Only by building closer and stronger partnerships can we turn challenges into opportunities, promote confidence, trust and unity among people, and collectively call for humanity to rise to its highest potential.

Chen Xu introduced the positive actions taken by Tsinghua University to use online education to promote teaching reform, promote learning innovation, improve the educational experience and meet the needs of society. Last December, Tsinghua co-launched the Global MOOC Alliance. This community of universities and online education platforms is promoting the online transformation of higher education and achieving more inclusive and high-quality education. It is necessary to comprehensively summarize our past achievements and experience, consolidate thoughtful ideas and leverage wonderful opportunities such as this dialogue to explore and rethink the future and new mission of online education.

The history of Tsinghua from 1911 until now is a journey of excellence, innovation, and contribution to the betterment of society, as Stefania Giannini said in her congratulatory speech. She mentioned that as the only agency with a mandate in higher education, UNESCO is dedicated to promoting intellectual collaboration as well as facilitating academic mobility to advance the Sustainable Development Goals when facing a global crisis.

John Hennessy, President of Stanford University (2000 - 2016), Chair of Alphabet Inc, and recipient of the 2017 Turing Award, Wang Shuaiguo, President of XuetangX, and Kumsal Bayazit, CEO of Elsevier and Chair of RELX Technology Forum, delivered keynote speeches in the session.

According to John Hennessy, online education has a long history, and the pandemic has accelerated its development. “This is a constant learning process,” said Hennessy. Our goal is to make educational resources affordable, accessible, and high-quality. For university presidents, he mentioned that the willingness to take risks and to be bold are very important leadership qualities.

Wang Shuaiguo mentioned that XuetangX is committed to using information technology to connect between online and offline, and continues to promote technological innovation. In 2016, XuetangX launched “Rain Classroom,” a smart teaching tool to support hybrid teaching. In the future, XuetangX will devote itself to exploring more possibilities in online education and contributing to the progress of global higher education.

“The pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital learning, creating an opportunity to rethink the future of online education,” Kumsal Bayzait said; “at Elsevier, our commitment is to work in partnership with the communities we serve, support educators in driving excellence in learning outcomes and research, and in making breakthroughs with healthcare professionals in improving the lives of patients.”

Then the session was divided into three parts with the following topics for in-depth exchange: “Before and during COVID-19: Reviewing and reflecting on online education”, “After COVID-19: Expectations for the way forward for global higher education”, and “Leading educational innovation: transforming your institution and the global higher education system.”

In topic one, “Before and during COVID-19: Reviewing and reflecting on online education,” Nikita Anisimov, President of the Far Eastern Federal University (Russia), Oh Se-Jung, President of Seoul National University (Korea), Ding Kuiling, Executive Vice President of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China), and Ariel Porat, President of Tel Aviv University (Israel), reviewed the practice of online education during COVID-19. It was generally agreed by the speakers that the integration of online and offline, the demands of teachers and students, focus on the design of courses, and the focus on quality evaluation were of great importance in online education.

“I believe the three keywords for online education in the future are high quality, personalization and integration,” said Ding Kuiling, Executive Vice President of Shanghai Jiaotong University. “Future education should not only apply wisdom to teaching but also emphasize teaching wisdom.”

In topic two, “After COVID-19: expectations for the way forward for global higher education,” Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor and Warden of Durham University (UK), Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (India), Peter Lievens, Vice-Rector of KU Leuven (Belgium), Ling San, Deputy-President and Provost of Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Donatella Sciuto, Executive Vice-Rector of the Politecnico di Milano (Italy), Gene Block, Chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles (US), Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter (UK), and Jasper Knoester, Pro-Rector of the University of Groningen (Netherlands), discussed the future path of higher education in the post-epidemic era. They reached agreement on keywords like global partnership, the common destiny of human beings, and personalization. With the background of the fourth Industrial Revolution, the purpose of education should match the needs of the trend of the times, which calls for generations with competence, responsibility, and a sense of humanity. Higher education institutions should be open and inclusive, break down information barriers, promote the development of global education through cross-disciplinary and cross-regional cooperation, and strive for Sustainable Development Goals.

According to Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, online education not only imparts knowledge to students but also equips them with the ability to learn online. In the field of higher education, open and cooperative communities should be established to realize the sharing of educational resources, enhance the experience of teachers and students, and promote educational equity. Ling San, Deputy-President and Provost of Nanyang Technological University, said that cognitive agility, interdisciplinary mindset, and lifelong learning are extremely important to students. Gene Block, Chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles, mentioned that the citizens in the 21st century should be equipped with the ability to adapt to a changing world, critical thinking, and the ability to analyze and solve problems. “This is essential for all of our graduates who are going to successfully navigate and contribute to a world ripe with complex global challenges, and the three elements I want to speak about today are literacy — scientific literacy, information literacy, and global literacy. I think these are going to be critical traits that our universities must cultivate in our students if we are properly to serve the next generation,” said Block.

In topic three, “Leading educational innovation: transforming your institution and the global higher education system,” Andrei Karol, Rector of the Belarusian State University (Belarus), Bundhit Eua-Arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), Rogério Colaço, President of the Instituto Superior Técnico (Portugal), Mikael Ostling, Deputy President of KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), David Leebron, President of Rice University (US), Mohd. Hamdi Abd. Shukor, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya (Malaysia), and Stephen Flint, Associate Vice-President for Internationalisation of the University of Manchester (UK), discussed the challenges and opportunities for future higher education. The digital revolution brings technological challenges to education, but it also provides opportunities for the promotion of lifelong education. Universities need to seize innovative opportunities and build global partnerships to contribute to the profound changes in education.

According to Bundhit Eua-Arporn, President of Chulalongkorn University, the mission of universities is to nurture future leaders, contribute to influential scientific research, create an interdisciplinary platform, and provide guidance and solutions for global sustainable development. David Leebron, President of Rice University, mentioned the importance of collaboration and partnership. “Global connections and relationships, and a global perspective on our missions of education, research, and service, are more important than ever,” said Leebron. “Over the last year, all of us have had to take many steps very quickly. Our world has changed. Technology and demand for learning will continue to progress rapidly, requiring that our steps become faster, so mostly it’s going to feel like we’re running.” Stephen Flint, Associate Vice President of the University of Manchester, pointed out that at a time when the pandemic is spreading, we are aware that international partnerships are particularly critical. In the future, Flint hoped that higher education institutions should never move away from their original mission of education and scientific research, while better serving the emerging and diversified needs of learners.

Since 2020, the innovation of educational philosophy and reform of educational models have become a global topic, shedding light on the great potential and value of online education. This forum brings together global wisdom to promote global higher education to jointly address challenges and opportunities, envision the future of online education, start new journeys of higher education, and build a more open, integrative and resilient university.

One of the main events for celebrating Tsinghua University’s 110th anniversary is the Global Forum of University Presidents 2021 (GFUP 2021), which will convene online and offline from 19th to 24th of April, 2021, to explore emerging aspirations for global higher education and support greater levels of collaboration. The plenary session is on April 24, with the theme of “Innovate for the Future: Vision and New Missions of Universities,” and the sub-forum is divided into four sessions:  "University as a Cultural Space: Looking Back into the Future", "Global Carbon Neutrality: Universities’ Responsibility and Action", "Rethinking the Future and New Mission of Online Education", and "Global University Leadership." Wang Xiaoxiao and Enoch Wong from the secretariat of the Global MOOC Alliance participated in session three of GFUP 2021.

Writers: Enoch Wong, Ning Xiaoxian

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