20 Theses on the Digitalisation of Higher Education
The individual theses can be expanded with a click.
The discussion paper can be downloaded here (PDF).
How we obtain information, communicate and interact with each other, work and shop: Digital media is firmly entrenched in our everyday life. It is increasingly changing our social coexistence and has far-reaching effects on social, economic and political levels. At universities, the changes and challenges brought about by technological change are even more fundamental and structural in nature. According to this definition, the term “digitalisation” refers to more than the technical transfer of analogue information and behaviour patterns to a digital format. Rather, digitalisation represents a fundamental process of change that involves existing forms of disseminating knowledge and acquiring expertise, understanding of roles and organizational structures, and cooperation in and around universities as well as the political framework. This discussion paper draws attention to the potentials of technological change and digitalisation for higher education, but also to the challenges and the pressure to act that they pose for policy-makers, university administrators, professors and other members of staff, through descriptions of the state of affairs, trends and general recommendations or demands. It is apparent that the scope of technological change is not only limited to teaching, but has a far reaching impact on the entire university. In addition to creating digital teaching and learning activities, technically and academically, it is necessary for universities to critically examine digitalisation and the setting of a favourable political agenda.
Consequently, digital education cannot be considered separate from existing fundamental challenges in the higher education system. The increasing number of students and the corresponding diversity of these numbers are just as important as the slowly increasing mobility of foreign students and the somewhat higher college dropout rate among undergraduate students. The increasing demand for highly trained professionals and advanced level academic programs will require new solution models for the emerging demographic changes. In the wake of globalization universities in Germany are under more pressure from the competition to innovate even though core funding remains the same or is decreasing.
In this context digital education can exasperate existing challenges and aggravate naturally tense relationships, for example funding for universities. It also creates its own set of challenges, particularly with respect to the regulatory framework. At the same time digitalisation addresses many of the existing challenges and identifies potentially new solutions. Last but not least it offers new opportunities to further advance teaching and learning as well as the university as such. The effects and the dynamics of these changes, in particular with respect to urgent university policy design processes, will be addressed in the following theses.
The theses are the preliminary result of a joint effort of more than seventy experts from academia, science, business, civil society and policy-making. All experts collaborate in six expert groups of the "German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age," an initiative by the Stifterverband (a business community initiative advocating long-term improvement of the German education and research landscape), the HRK (German Rectors' Conference) and the Centre for Higher Education (CHE), funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The objective of the Forum is to examine the potentials and challenges of digital education and to develop specific action plans for universities and policy-makers. During the project, one of the main tasks of the Forum will be to address current changes and developments in digital education and unite key participants from the different fields of business, politics and academia in one comprehensive dialogue. The discussion paper serves as a foundation for this debate and encourages critical discussion and careful consideration of the current developments at German universities.
Furthermore, as the technological change triggers a dynamic process far beyond the borders of national educational systems, these results may also provide added value to higher education executives and policy stakeholders outside of Germany. Broad exchange and networking on an international level around new initiatives and innovative approaches, addressing what we called “The Digital Turn” in our midterm conference last autumn, will remain of high interest for the German Forum for Higher Education in the Digital Age; now and in the future. For this reason the “20 Theses on Digital Teaching and Learning in Higher Education” which were initially published in September 2015 have been slightly updated and translated into English.