Is a moderate jog good enough for the higher education?

Meelis Kitsing
Meelis Kitsing, PhD, EBS Rector and Professor of Political Economy 
The demands of the new world are constantly changing. Along with this, universities must change to give higher education that can contribute to this world. The advantage of Estonian Business School as the only private university in Estonia, is speed and flexibility. With EBS education you can be certain that it meets the requirements of the new world!

How fast should one run to stay still? Is a moderate jog good enough to maintain the current role of higher education in society, or is it necessary to start running significantly faster? The world is changing at a dizzying pace. Along with this, the education that is acquired must also change in order to cope in this new world. Especially, if we want the contribution of higher education to society to advance, EBS rector and professor Meelis Kitsing writes. 


The Red Queen hypothesis from Lewis Carroll's legendary novel “Alice in Wonderland” is particularly appropriate in these changing times. When Alice complains that she is already drained from running, but still stands in the same place where she started running, the Red Queen points out that in her country it takes all the running you can do, to remain in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast. 


The old model of getting an education, building a career in the same field and then retiring, no longer works. Occupations and labour market needs are changing rapidly. People change jobs and even professions at an increasingly fast pace. Paid work alternates with self-employment. At the same time, the average life expectancy is increasing, so there are more and more years of active working life. Concentrating higher education at the beginning of the life cycle and offering it on the principle of "one size fits all" can no longer meet these needs. 


More ambitious goals


Considering the needs of society and the possible development trajectories of universities, the goals set for education in Estonia are rather formal education centred and certainly not ambitious enough. The lion's share of Estonian population, in order to develop their skills along with the needs of the labour market, should improve their knowledge on regular basis. Unfortunately, as the strategy "Estonia 2035" points out, only one fifth of adults improve their knowledge, and the least likely to do so are older and lower-paid people, who especially need it. In the next 15 years, we want to reach the level of the further education among adults to 25 percent of the population. This is not a sufficient goal.


Generally, the development of higher education has been viewed on the scale of lifelong learning vs. formal learning. The OECD introduced such a division for the key factors influencing the future of universities as early as 2004. Although this scale has been used for a long time, the models are not necessarily opposites. Formal degree studies can be integrated with lifelong learning. This is what EBS has tried to achieve with the nanodegrees launched two years ago, whereby combining different nanodegrees, students can acquire a master's degree in a time frame that suits them.


On the other hand, it is customary to distinguish to what extent education is mediated by technology platforms and how much of the learning is traditional classroom learning. It is possible to use the strengths of both approaches by skilfully combining them. For example, by offering students lectures from the world's top scientists through technology platforms and discussing them in a seminar in the classroom. In cooperation with the educational platform Coursera, EBS is implementing such an approach.


To some extent universities have always been platforms, but the digital era offers plenty of new opportunities here. Digital platforms enable global networking, so a scale effect occurs. Education can be provided anywhere and for everyone. Platforming allows for individualisation and flexibility. We don't have to offer a uniform model to the average student, but we can develop specific subjects that maybe only five people listen to at our own university. Through the platform, however, this very specific subject can be offered all over the world, it finds a wider audience.


The demands of the new world


At the same time, attention must be paid to how different universities create added value by complementing each other. Good universities offer knowledge and learning opportunities to the community also for free, it is subsidized from other financial sources. Some things are done in order to earn money, while this money subsidizes topics that are strategically important for development - science is subsidized from education revenues, new subjects are developed based on science, they are made more meaningful and up to date.


The advantage of Estonian Business School as the only private university in Estonia, is speed and flexibility. We assure that learning opportunities and goals meet the needs of society and the labour market. The pressure to deal with the problems of society, environment changing economy in addition to making a profit has become an inevitable part of business. But how many of us are up to these tasks and ready to implement the necessary changes instead of jogging after them?


To prepare leaders who can solve the challenges of the new world, we developed an innovative MA programme Business Innovation in the New Economy. To contribute to a new and better world through education, EBS also offers scholarships to the best candidates.


The new MA program focuses on two main lines. Leveraging Green Economy Innovation prepares students to deal with climate change, biodiversity, sustainability and other green issues in addition to excellent business and leadership skills. Leading Digitalisation and Navigating the Start-up Economy deals not only with the actual automation and digitalisation of processes but also human resources behind them. The programme provides answers to questions about how to balance the economic and social impact of digitization and what traditional companies can learn from start-ups.


Cooperation instead of competition


Coming back to the Red Queen hypothesis – if earlier it was considered that adaptation to the environment was the driving force behind evolution, later it has been found that relationships between species play a much more significant role. If even one of the species in the community changes, it forces all the others to change as well. 


Ideally, also education and related digital platforms are ecosystems where we rather complement each other than compete. At the same time, you must keep up with the surrounding world. Moderate jogging is no longer enough to stay at the same place. It is necessary to start running a lot faster, if we want higher education to catch up with the needs of the world.