Education Unusual For Resilient Leaders In Asia
By Debra Tan, Chien Tat Low 18 June, 2020
With education disrupted by COVID-19, surely it’s time to prepare students for climate risks ahead? CWR's Tan & Low on why we must rethink the curriculum
Like in any other sectors in the world, education is not immune. COVID-19 has caused huge disruptions to universities – lockdowns have closed university campuses worldwide; classes have moved online; and hostel and facilities are left unused.
While the pandemic has thrown the global education system into disarray, it has resulted in ‘downtime’ to rethink the current system. Is now the time to go all-in on “education unusual” to prepare future leaders for imminent systemic shocks from more viruses as well as climate change?
University operations & business models disrupted = time to rethink
Already, universities are losing revenue from rents, conferences, and tuition fees, leading to jobs cut and disruptions to research and learning. Worse still, forecasts predict a decline of 15% to 25% in enrolments. For just the UK alone, universities could lose up to GBP6.7 billion from tuition fees next year.
In light of the COVID-19’s disruptions, surely it’s time to prepare students to face imminent water & climate crisis ahead
With the movement of international students still up in the air, reliance on international student income will also have to be considered. Since all these factors point to a new business model for universities post COVID-19, surely the time to rethink education is now? Surely, it’s time to prepare students to face imminent water and climate crisis ahead?
Evolving to stay relevant …
As we are writing this, a movement has started to #ShutDownAcademia, #ShutDownSTEM and #Strike4BlackLives – an initiative by STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) academics and organisations to support the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and efforts against systemic racism in the scientific community.
Racism must be dealt with; but so must climate change as it will only widen existing inequalities
Racism must be dealt with; but so must climate change as it will only widen existing inequalities. Racism is inextricably linked to minority and poverty and it is this group of people who are usually the most vulnerable to climate change.
Although they are likely the least responsible for the climate crisis, they will suffer its gravest consequences due to the lack of soft and hard infrastructure to withstand disasters – lack of access to water, medical treatment and sub-standard housing to name a few.
Universities should therefore also lead efforts to eradicate climate injustice. This will not be achieved without embracing inclusiveness and interdisciplinary collaboration. The rigid institutional structure of academia must evolve to stay relevant. This is particularly urgent in Asia, where hundreds of millions still live without access to clean water.
Climate crises need solutions – academia silos must go!
Asia faces unprecedented challenges ahead with our water resources and climate change. It’s not just the rural poor but many of our capital cities may run out of water – they are also by the ocean and will face coastal threats.
Asia needs a waternomic roadmap to generate more GDP with less water & less pollution…
What’s worse, many countries do not have enough water to develop under business-as-usual scenarios. We have no choice but to chart a new waternomic roadmap that will allow Asia to generate more GDP with less water and less pollution.
Innovating solutions to achieve this will require multidisciplinary skillset and collaboration from politics to engineering, and finance to geography. However, the siloed nature of academia creates a barrier restricting this collaboration
…yet academic silos create such knowledge gaps in courses & research
Many students who are studying business or finance do not necessarily take environmental courses and understand how natural risks may impact their investment portfolios; while engineering or environmental science students are unlikely to study business and policy and understand how water and climate risks could be factored into government/corporate strategy or credit policy. Such siloing effects also filter through academic research, creating a huge gap in such research.
Worse still, modern universities are still under the pressure to “publish or perish” – a measure of scientific “success”. This has led to an abundance of scientific publications that are “unnecessary” which are merely for the sake of publication to get tenure positions. This vicious cycle must go.
There has also been a rise in fake news related to science, which has worryingly led to many not to trust science. With no public access to good scientific journals (only fake news), the science research model needs revamping. Science and policy has its own language – this “speaking in tongues” must also end so as not to alienate the public and encourage buy-in to water and climate policies.
Universities must unsilo departments & lead in applied research that could help deliver climate solutions
Universities must be proactive – unsilo-ing departments is not enough – they should lead the way in applied research that could help businesses, investors and policymakers to gauge climate solutions that will save money or could even be profitable in the long-term. Corporates in return can fund university R&D for more solutions, creating a virtuous cycle from research to application.
Start unsiloing with water – the resource most vulnerable to climate change
Yes, such structural reform is difficult for universities, but we must not delay as climate change waits for no one. Since January, there have been plenty more grim news on the climate crisis – from accelerated warming of oceans, melting glaciers, and rising seas, to abnormal hurricanes and megadroughts.
Depressingly, COVID-19 only brought about a fall of 8% in carbon emissions and we will need 10 more years of this to avoid warming of more than 1.5°C. Universities must therefore also undergo a metamorphosis along with other sectors and close these knowledge gaps and come up with innovative solutions.
Teaching Asia’s water challenges help students “see” & manage the new risk landscape…
In the pantheon of impacts accelerated by climate change, we must pick a place to start. Of course, we will root for water. We would like to see Asia’s water challenges taught in business, finance and policy courses so that students can “see” and manage the new risk landscape.
Studying “environment” related courses with business is not just about how companies will impact the environment – they must also be about how the environment will impact business. Floods/droughts, rising water scarcity or sea levels will all impact companies/cities ability to survive.
Without seeing this “big picture”, we will likely be left in the dark, making uninformed decision. Worse still, we may invent solutions that are counterproductive. A recent example is that an alternative measure hailed as a “climate solution” could do more harm than business as usual – ships powered by LNG could be worse for the climate than those powered by conventional fuels.
The right time to embed the climate crisis across university courses is now!
Education is in for a “great reset” – how can university curricula stay relevant post COVID-19? Since there is no right time to reform, NOW is a good a time as any to embed the climate crisis into the core curriculum.
To prepare students for a resilient future, waternomics must be embedded as a core topic across all course subjects …
To prepare students for a resilient future, waternomics must be embedded as a core topic across all course subjects. Education should be solutions-focused and centered around a curriculum designed to empower and create climate champions around the world – be they climate scientists, engineers, policy makers or entrepreneurs.
Even tech graduates can put their skills to good use by creating big data applications that can help improve the environment.
…change is difficult but we must summon up the courage
Change is difficult but we must summon up the courage to dismantle academic silos. Like it or not, universities must use this time to think out-of-the-box and fill these knowledge gaps, or economic development and livelihoods will suffer.
When we look back on this moment, surely we want to say we used it to prepare the next generation for a cleaner, greener and smarter world that is also fair and resilient to climate crises ahead?
So what will these multidisciplinary courses look like? We have some ideas from our various interactions with universities globally. We are distilling our experience in guest lecturing; collaborative research; plus waternomic coursework development for a Masters in Investment Management into a paper.
We are working on this brief now – so if you would like to help us catalyse action in academic preparedness to produce a future generation of business, policy and finance leaders – please contact us!
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