21st-century universities built to see students succeed

Knowledge is key to prosperity

Writing in the 1960s, on the cusp of the third industrial revolution, university scholar and administrator Clark Kerr articulated the concept of the modern university we know today.

He saw that knowledge had never before been so central to national prosperity.

He saw that virtually all fields were starting to require advanced study of their workers.

And he saw, that as the economy came to rely upon universities for this advanced talent — and universities sought to accommodate — they became larger and more complex. He called them “multi-versities,” and they are essentially the institutions we know today.

Feridun Hamdullahpur

But as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded us at the World Economic Forum — where he singled the University of Waterloo out for our leadership in innovation — we stand on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution.

So what do we see? What is our concept for the 21st-century university?

Technology, connection and complexity are defining this new era, and universities need to prepare students to succeed.

To be fair, universities across the country are experimenting with new ideas to help produce fourth-industrial-revolution alumni. But nowhere is the university model more fully adapted to this new era than at your alma mater, because we’re responding to real-world needs and leading higher-education innovation.

Industry is rightly questioning whether today’s graduates have the talent to drive disruptive innovation. Your University does. As Sam Altman, president of Silicon Valley’s Y-Combinator has said, there is something about Waterloo students and alumni that makes them think like founders — with all the cognitive and business skills that Altman’s observation implies.

Yes, Sam — that’s the idea. And it’s an idea I’ve been advocating for strongly in recent months, through public addresses and discussions with government and industry leaders. By fusing academic excellence with co-operative education, entrepreneurial opportunity and research intensity, your University has a unique system and culture that makes innovation more likely — in our labs, classrooms, on our co-op work terms and after our people graduate.

Bottom line? It gives every student a better shot at realizing his or her full potential. As you’ll find in this issue of Waterloo Magazine, our students thrive on that challenge. And I thrive on seeing them succeed.