Ten Seconds of Future Universities

A second, also called semitone or a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music. When sounded harmonically it is considered the most dissonant. Something obviously is tense, wants to dissolve, strives for another state. Dissonances in music have a dynamic force, they appear as an unstable state, are not a calm anchor. Not a moment of dwelling – they want to move on. They seem to necessitate one further step, pointing music in one direction. And yet they are the smallest unity of great pieces of music, of all pieces of music. The University of the Future is confronted with the question of whether it can understand the dissonances currently emerging as moments of development from which it can compose a new architecture, understanding them as development potentials.

What are those seconds – those developments which on the one hand present problems, difficulties, challenges, lead to dissonance and on the other hand simultaneously provoke and enable developments? Making them necessary? What are the ten seconds that determine the future of higher education? [1]

The future of higher education stretches out like a horizon. Luhmann (1976) describes that in all social systems expectations are shaped that are decisive for how the system, including higher education, orients itself in its operations towards the future. It is therefore important for the future of the University to also take into account its internal situation and the expectations of its different stakeholders. Niklas Luhmann (ibid.) hereby distinguishes two aspects, namely present futures – i.e. projections, for instance in the form of utopias – and future presents in the form of technological orientations, causal or stochastic connections of future events. The present work is intended as a contribution to the future presents of higher education. 



It is a multitude of different developments of a social, economic, political and technological nature that lead both to a transformation climate and a need for transformation. Some aspects stand out like landmarks visible from afar and form occasions for smaller and larger crises and thus new developments. Ten points are chosen and analysed below with the aim of mapping out to what extent they exert transformation pressure on higher education institutions.

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Contact information:

Prof. Dr. Ulf-Daniel Ehlers
DHBW Karlsruhe


[1] Throughout our text we used the term higher education and refer to its institution as higher education institution. However, for this chapter on its future we have decided to synonymously use University as a term and refer to the University of the Future. The main reason is to be comparable with other foresight studies and scenarios which often use the term University of the Future rather than higher education institution of the future.