The new paradigm of lifelong learning: the future is already present

Samuel Martín-Barbero and Sebastian Royo

On 18 June 2020, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised the live dialogue on entitled "The new paradigm of lifelong learning: the future is already present" in which Samuel Martín-Barbero and Sebastian Royo participated.

Samuel Martín-Barbero is former Dean of the School of Communication at IE University, former Rector of Camilo José Cela University and currently Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami. He is a manager, thinker and innovator in higher education, with solid experience in leadership, strategy and organisational and academic transformation. His areas of expertise and professional interest are: curriculum renewal, talent management, value generation, international development and social impact. He holds a PhD in Communication (with Extraordinary Prize) from the Complutense University of Madrid; a Master's degree in Journalism from the newspaper El País-Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; and studies in History, Politics and Management from Lunds Universitet (Sweden). He has advanced courses in leadership, management and research at: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Oxford, University of Pennsylvania, The University of Chicago, LSE and United Nations University (UNU), thanks to scholarships granted by Fundación Caja Madrid, Fundación Rafael del Pino and Fundación Ramón Areces. "He has been an active member of the Global Agenda Council (GAC) in Informed Societies and the Knowledge Advisory Board, both belonging to the World Economic Forum (WEF, Switzerland). He is currently a member of the International Editorial Advisory Board of the scientific journal Journalism & Mass Communication Educator (USA). He has published extensively in the form of opinion articles on higher education in specialised and informative media such as: Times Higher Education, Higher Education Policy Institute, World Economifc Forum-Agenda, The Conversation, Foreign Policy and

Sebastián Royo is currently a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. He is also a Vice President of International Affairs and Professor in the Department of Political Science & Legal Studies at Suffolk University in Boston, USA, where he served as Acting Provost between August 2016 and August 2019. Royo's articles and reviews on comparative politics have appeared in Comparative Political Studies, European Journal of Industrial Relations, PS: Political Science and Politics, West European Politics, South European Society and Politics, Democratization, Mediterranean Quarterly, SELA, FP, Perspectives on Politics, and other publications. His books include From Social Democracy to Neoliberalism: The Consequences of Party Hegemony in Spain, 1982-1996 (2000), A New Century of Corporatism? Corporatism in Southern Europe: Spain and Portugal in Comparative Perspective (2002), Spain and Portugal in the European Union: The First Fifteen Years (ed. with P. Manuel, 2003); Portugal, Espanha e a Integração Europeia: Um Balanço (ed. 2005); Varieties of Capitalism in Spain (2008); Lessons from the Economic Crisis in Spain (2013), and Portugal, Forty-Four Years After the Revolution (ed. 2018). Royo is a Senior Research Associate at the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, and an and local affiliate at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University, where he is the co-chair of the Europe in the World Seminar. He is the founder and co-chair of the American Political Science Association's Iberian Studies Group, and serves in the editorial boards of South European Society & Politics and


On 18 June 2020, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised a dialogue entitled "The new paradigm of lifelong learning: the future is already the present", with the participation of Samuel Martín-Barbero, former Dean of the School of Communication at IE University, former Rector of Camilo José Cela University and currently Distinguished Presidential Fellow at the University of Miami, and Sebastián Royo, visiting scholar at Harvard University's Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

Sebastián Royo commented that one of the big surprises and disappointments in recent years in the United States has been the loss of confidence in the education sector and the value of university degrees. This has come about because of the disconnect between the cost of higher education and its value in the labour market. The model we have had of disengaging with students when they leave university is obsolete. The learning process must be continuous in order to solve this question of the value of education.

Samuel Martín-Barbero wonders whether or not lifelong learning belongs to the university sphere. We hardly find departments that allocate resources, energy and vocation to cover this training segment that comes after a formal education. Conceptually, lifelong learning has for two decades in the United States been something on which a theoretical corpus has been built to bring the older, working population who want to study closer to vocational education and training. But a century ago there were already renowned figures who conceived that, in the American spirit, education had to be ever-present. Correspondence education, for example, was a form of lifelong education. Universities, however, have paid little attention to this issue, which has led to other providers filling the demand.

When we talk about lifelong learning, we must bear in mind that it is the educational institutions, rather than the teaching staff, that have to make the decision in this respect, because these are the rules of the game. Under these rules, teachers are measured by their capacity for scientific production. Therefore, to what extent do they have the capacity to influence the compensation process and mechanisms? It is up to the leaders of institutions, states and regulatory bodies to decide whether it makes sense that, instead of putting the student at the centre of their being, science and scientific careers should be at the centre of their being. In many countries there are institutions that take a pro-teacher, pro-teaching and pro-learning stance over research. They pay increasing attention to everything that has to do with experience inside and outside the classroom, with life experience, of accompanying with necessarily formal knowledge in the process of maturity. This question requires institutional reflection. There are magnificent teachers who have vocation in their veins, others who have research in their veins. The balance between these two forces will determine the value of education.

Sebastián Royo considers this to be a strategic decision for universities. Bearing in mind that universities have very different profiles, for some it may be a very important part and for others it may not, but for most US universities the professional development of students has become an almost existential issue. If they are not able to respond to this demand, other agents will be the ones to provide the answer, at a much lower cost and looking for a very differentiated market segment. The number one priority, therefore, is for the programmes to guarantee a professional outlet for students and for them to be a starting point that guarantees a professional career. Education plays a key role because the curriculum is decided by the teachers. The challenge is to get them involved in this spirit of designing curricula for students. Students will not come to universities if they do not see that they are going to have career opportunities, especially if they have to go into debt to pay for university.
Samuel Martín-Barbero agrees that employability is key. It is an element of attraction that universities are using to attract students, talking about the competitive advantages of having a university education as opposed to not having one. It is evident because families are looking for a return on their investment, based on a huge cost or a huge debt that they will have for the rest of their lives. This variable plays a key role. But is the problem of employability something to be solved only by the university? No. Businesses need to approach universities in a different way than they do now, to design the curriculum together with them. It is not just a matter of hiring associate professors, but of assuming that the future of curriculum design involves designing it in collaboration with the business world. When we talk about long life learning, we tend to think that, if the university has covered the educational space for people between 18 and 24 years of age for centuries, it will do so by natural extension with respect to the other age segments. The question is whether this is possible or not. 80% of university income is covered by the 18-24 year old segment and the remaining 20% by masters and doctoral students who are not in the age profile of seniors. Long life learning implies that the student returns to university several times to do masters, certificates, etc. These motivations do not necessarily stem from the same impulses as when the student is 18 years old. They may want to do so because of a change of profession, a change of sector, because they want to study what they like, because of the need to escape. The question is whether the university is prepared to respond to this demand for training.

Sebastián Royo recalls, in this respect, that there was a time when it was questioned whether the humanities were going to have a future, as opposed to science and business administration degrees. One of the pleasant surprises was that when universities talked to employers, one of the answers they got was that they don't care so much about a person's specific degree as they do about their professional skills and ability to keep learning. What they want students to learn at university is how to communicate, how to write, how to innovate, how to handle technology, how to handle data, how to write digitally. That's important, but it's also key that we don't forget the most essential content. Students are going to find themselves in a world where the problems they face will have to be solved in an interdisciplinary way. The concept of specialised departments goes against the interdisciplinary teaching that is needed, just as in courses where we need people from different specialisations.

Samuel Martín-Barbero comments that there are universities in continental Europe that began curricular reform processes based on this idea. The positioning of faculties and thematic units is done by looking to the future of the world we are moving towards and to the evolution of the professions themselves. This is the best guarantee that universities are committed to employability. It is about helping students to prepare themselves to manage their lives, to achieve a work-life balance, to change sectors, to go from freelance to staff and vice versa. That is employability, not just getting the first job. It is important to look at the long term, to look at and understand the ecosystem, to go beyond what happens inside the classroom to understand the role of universities. Interdisciplinarity is necessary. Many of the problems we face today require the ability to integrate very different knowledge in order to provide accurate answers.

Sebastián Royo warns that graduates' first job is often not what they expected. For this reason, it is necessary to make a shift towards a commitment to students, to acquire a commitment for the entire professional life of that individual. It is important because today it is unthinkable to remain for life in the same company, in the same job, even in the same career. We need to develop programmes so that they can stay connected to the university and that we give them the tools to do so. The current model has become obsolete because the degree is useless after four or five years. What knowledge can a person accredit four or five years after finishing university if they haven't worked in something related to it? These models need to be reformed and the degree needs to be made conditional on the graduate's commitment to continue training over the years, to update the knowledge that has become obsolete.

A key question in this reform process is how our students learn. This question has to be a starting point for developing new learning methodologies. Students learn by doing, by seeing, by experiencing, not by memorising. We have to adjust our methodologies around this fact. Methodologies that allow experimentation are key. That has to be in everything we do and that learning also takes place in the real world. It is essential to give students a gateway to the labour market. Technology is also key. We have so much information on how individual students learn that, with the help of technology, we are able to respond to their individual needs and tailor that response to the particularities of each student.

Samuel Martín-Barbero considers that there is no greater treasure than to find oneself in a university that covers all areas of knowledge, that thinks in this all-encompassing revolution. The United Kingdom, in this sense, began a few years ago to establish the figure of the rector of learning and teaching. Methodology will determine the differential value of a university because it will determine the perception of quality that students and future students have of that university. Alumni will help the university based on their learning experience. A methodology with many areas of knowledge can be very rich if everything is integrated. An untapped asset is the way in which certain skills and trades have been learned, which can give a formidable result and improve quality. In this process, it is necessary to think first about the methodology and then about the contents that are adapted to that methodology. Physical space also plays a decisive role. This generates a new organisational culture that universities will have to activate and to which they will have to pay attention. It is important from a pedagogical point of view for young and old alike.

Sebastián Royo considers that the coexistence of young and old in the same teaching space is an extraordinary opportunity. Older people have a different way of learning, they have different life experiences. These experiences of older people when they join the classroom have a dramatic impact on the students. They produce an enrichment of debates, of discussions, of perspectives, of sensitivity to different issues, to the growth of diversity, which is going to be key to people's success. A university for young people only is a choice that we will not be able to make because of the decline in the young population, due to the falling birth rate and emigration to other parts of the country.

Samuel Martín-Barbero points out that the concern about skills and competences started two or three years ago. The World Economic Forum has published reports in which it talks about skills in decline and those experiencing strong growth. The OECD also has reports on core skills and is recruiting on the basis of those skills, which are analytical skills, relational skills and strategic skills. The focus is no longer so much on the degree as on the institution you come from, in the sense that it provides very recognisable transversal skills for the market, regardless of the degree you have taken.

Sebastián Royo agrees with this last point and comments that universities are moving away from the credit model and have replaced it with learning competences. Student success is a priority because it is key to the perceived value of their studies. Technology is key to providing feedback to support students in the areas where they have the most difficulties. At the same time it gives the opportunity to customise these actions. It also provides information about students' learning processes. This information gives the opportunity to redesign the course. Technology also offers the possibility of e-learning or hybrid learning. The pandemic has meant an acceleration towards virtual and online learning models. Teachers have realised that they can do this and see the virtues of this model. Experiments are to be developed using hybrid courses, where the learner can choose to go to class on some days and study online on others.

Samuel Martín-Barbero points out that the stage fright of facing virtual reality has been dissipating. Technology has made it possible to work in a more agile way. But there is not an unlimited number of students you can cater for if you want to generate debate and interaction. To motivate online students it is important to bring in guests, to combine oral and written exams, to set objectives every ten minutes, to reuse multimedia resources to complement subject plans. It is still too early to tell how well universities have adapted to the new normal. There are very different idiosyncrasies among them. Some have little money to make ends meet and a few have resources to spare. Many are very tight on budget. The short-term economic impact of the pandemic is going to be significant for universities that are heavily dependent on tuition fees. They will experience a drop in income of between 20% and 30%, partly due to the deferral in the reservation of places and enrolment, partly due to international students who cannot travel, and partly due to the spatial redesign of campuses to adapt them to health criteria. This variable is key when it comes to making any kind of prediction, because without sufficient income, the strategy of repositioning oneself in the market becomes more complicated.

Sebastián Royo adds that the crisis has come at a time when many universities were in a very weak situation, as a result of the crisis of confidence in their value, the demographic crisis and the crisis of access due to the high costs of university and the difficulty in obtaining funding to study. This has led to exceptional strains on many universities, especially those with less financial capacity, and to the closure of some of them. COVID-19 will accelerate this process. Therefore, the value of the university must be demonstrated, from the perspective of employment and also from the perspective of learning. We have to generate methodologies that show value. We have to reduce the costs of the university. This will lead to a reorganisation of universities and greater use of technologies to increase scale and reduce costs. We have to look for opportunities with market segments other than young people, with segments that demand this knowledge. The universities that are able to respond to these crises are the ones that are going to come out ahead.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.