What should change in higher education? A lot, but I’ll focus on communication for now. I think all parts of the educational system, universities as well as primary schools, need to emphasize communication between all groups of people. This is how we build stronger communities, how we disseminate knowledge, and how we grow as the global society that we are. Communication can prevent wars, and enable fantastical discoveries, but I don’t think we have nearly enough emphasis on this skill.
The global perspectives program here is an example of universities trying to enhance communication, but I don’t believe it is enough. There are too many types of communication to be encompassed by such a small program. We need to enhance communication between cultures as well as cohorts. Engineers and historians need to communicate just as much as Americans need to communicate with Germans. Freshman in high school should talk to seniors in undergrad as well as 5th year Ph.D. students and Deans.
We need journalists to communicate effectively with scientists and vice versa. We need historians to speak to teachers.
We need businessmen to talk to students.
We need mechanical engineers to understand chemists.
This communication is how we build better ideas, better consumer products, and ultimately a better world. It’s how people find their passions and their creativity. It’s how people learn about the world around them.
HOWEVER, I don’t think this kind of communication is currently supported by most universities. Engineers have a tendency to believe their work is harder and therefore better than say an English or a business major. Physicists and Mathematicians have even been known to argue superiority over other science disciplines as witnessed by Randall Munroe in XKCD:
This type of superiority complex makes it difficult to have an intelligent and reasonable conversation, as one side inherently ignores half the conversation because it is “beneath them”. This kind of thinking needs to be squashed as much as any other kind of bigotry because it doesn’t help anyone. I think universities still emphasize superiority instead of trying to bring everyone up to the highest level of intelligence.
Universities need to find a way to facilitate more communication between students of every age, ethnicity, and discipline. Have a program to send grad students to high schools. If volunteering doesn’t work, make it a class assignment to explain a course learning objective to a middle school class or something. Have coffee budget for grad students and undergrads to sit down and talk shop. These events appear every now and then for individual departments or clubs, but university wide emphasis on this type of communication is a must.