Integrating disciplines 'key to dealing with digital revolution'

University reform urgently needed to capitalise on fourth industrial revolution, says KAIST head

July 4, 2017
Shin Sung-chul, president of KAIST

Universities must embrace crossdisciplinary education and research in order to deal with the “megatrends” of the fourth industrial revolution, according to the president of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

Speaking at the Times Higher Education Research Excellence Summit in Taichung, Taiwan, Sung-Chul Shin said that these challenges were particularly pressing in South Korea, which he described as being at a “stall point” where it can either continue developing as an advanced nation or get stuck with a “stagnant economy”.

The fourth industrial revolution, also known as the digital revolution, is predicted to change the way we live, work and relate to each other. It represents the integration of technology between the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Professor Shin said that there are three megatrends that will drive the fourth industrial revolution: hyperconnectivity, which is the integration of the physical and digital fields; superintelligence, which will draw on artificial intelligence and computer science; and the convergence of science and technology.

Universities should play a “central role” in developing the fourth industrial revolution, he said.

In meeting the challenges posed by the digital revolution, universities will need to bring research across various disciplines together, in order to achieve better results than when professors work in a single specialism, Professor Shin said. Research involving the areas of artificial intelligence, brain research, data science and computer science will be key, he added.

International collaboration was also vital, he continued, pointing out that Korea only invests a fraction of its research budget in brain science research when compared with the US and Japan. “We cannot compete so we have to collaborate,” Professor Shin said.

“Concerning all megatrends, university reform is urgent,” he added.

Professor Shin argued that students will need an education in the humanities and social sciences in addition to strong training in basic science and engineering, in order to improve their creative talents.

“Team-based learning and the flipped classroom is very important to fostering these skills in the next generation,” he told the conference.

South Korea’s major research and development policies for the future include expanding investment and “improving the efficiency” of research by streamlining the planning, management and evaluation of research projects, the conference heard. The government is also developing a series of strategic research priorities.

“As the Korean government adopts the fourth industrial revolution, KAIST will play a pivotal role,” Professor Shin said. “Korea is near a stall point, it is either destined to solidify its place as an advanced nation or be caught in the middle-income trap with a stagnant economy.”

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

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