Will technology and technocrats hog the limelight in the economy of the future or will there be an even greater need for professionals with a broader vision? This was the underlying question tackled at a roundtable discussion, titled Liberal arts, Industry 4.0 and Beyond, hosted by Lingnan University at the QS Higher Education Summit: APAC 2022 on 9 November 2022.
In his opening remarks, Lingnan University’s President, Professor Leonard K Cheng, noted how the concept of Industry 5.0, or the Fifth Industrial Revolution, first gained currency at the CeBIT 2017 digital business trade fair. In this vision for the future of industrial automation and smart manufacturing, the emphasis would be on humans and society not just robotics and other technological tools.
“To some advocates of Industry 5.0, Industry 4.0 is characterised as “the rule of robots” and Industry 5.0 as “automation with a soul,” Prof Cheng explained. “I believe that we in higher education, especially those of us who are involved in the provision of liberal arts education, should indeed be more comfortable with Industry 5.0 than Industry 4.0.”
He pointed out that, in the face of the disruption and misery caused by events such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the EU has embraced Industry 5.0 and now favours technology that focuses on resilience in the face of uncertainties and shocks, the enhancement of the talent of workers and their satisfaction from work, and the sustainability of human development.
Moderator Anton John Crace, Editor and Program Designer, QS Quacquarelli Symonds, asked the panel to describe how liberal arts programmes fit into this new paradigm, built on collaboration between humans and machines.
Responding, Prof Cheng said he saw Industry 5.0 as a push back against Industry 4.0, and the possibility of humans ending up as slaves of machines. Using his own university as an example, Prof Cheng noted that in preparation for an uncertain, but collaborative, future, Lingnan trains its students in skills that are transferable not only between jobs but also between careers. These are based not only on the four Cs - critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration – but also on others emphasised at Lingnan, such as responsible leadership, entrepreneurship and problem-solving. “Our students apply what they learn to actual problems and get their hands dirty.”
Picking up on these points, Professor Sharma Shalendra, Associate Vice-President (Academic Quality Assurance and Internationalisation), and Lee Shau Kee Foundation Chair Professor of Political Science, at Lingnan University, noted the three pillars of Industry 5.0: human-centric orientation, resilience and sustainability. Again taking Lingnan as his example, Prof Shalendra explained that these pillars are essential elements of a liberal arts education. At Lingnan, students’s human capital was developed not only through the rigourous academic training they receive in class, but also through experiences that build their self-esteem, confidence and a sense of social responsibility – a blend of hard and soft skills. “So our service learning programmes do not just have the traditional focus on underprivileged communities and help for the elderly, but are also based on entrepreneurship.”
When it came to mentoring resilience and adaptability, Prof Shalendra pointed to the way in which Lingnan switched to a true hybrid mode during the pandemic, in which teaching continued in the classroom as well as online.
The members of the panel were also keen to highlight the fact that the curricula now pursued at the best liberal arts university were not a response to Industry 5.0, or 4.0, but were in place long before these terms were first coined.
Dr Gatot Fatwanto Hertono, Director of Academic Development and Learning Resources, Universitas Indonesia, said that when the liberal arts courses were first introduced at his university in 2007, both at undergraduate and professional level, the teaching of creative- and logical-thinking competencies were already key elements. Dr Hertono added that students at Universitas Indonesia also learn off campus at other institutes, in government departments or in private industry, and such experiential learning has since become part of the national higher education policy.
Professor Joshua Mok Ka-ho, Vice President and Lam Man Tsan Chair Professor of Comparative Policy, Lingnan University, said that, while other universities may focus on the professionalisation of education, liberal arts institutions aim to give a greater meaning to learning beyond the enhancement of economic productivity. While he recognised that universities, of course, needed to prepare their students for employment, they also needed to ask themselves what form this employment might take in an uncertain world.
Prof Mok then went on to cite the results of a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers which asked employers what sort of key attributes they were looking for in fresh graduates. Problem-solving skills and the ability to work in teams came out joint top, each picked by 82.9 percent of respondents, followed by communication skills, identified by 80.3 percent, and leadership, 72.6 percent. These, and most of the other skills that are in demand by employers, are taught at liberal arts universities, he pointed out. “It is not only about the major, specialised subjects, we broaden the educational experience of our students.”
The goal, Prof Mok said, was to produce ethically-minded leaders who could think globally and act locally.
Prof Cheng noted that the liberal arts did need to evolve, however. “We need to ensure basic science and technology literacy among our graduates, even if they don’t study science and technology majors.” It was also very important that students gain an understanding of big data and how to use it, he concluded.