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Building capacity, in terms of research and teaching competence related to questions on digital transformation of government and society, and incorporating such topics into the curricula, constitutes an impending need. Insufficient attention on such questions may increase the gap between the academia and the ‘real world’, contributing to detachment of higher education from the practical needs of the state, the markets, and the society.
Digitalizing higher education
The core task of universities is to prepare specialists capable of understanding, analyzing, and mastering complex realities characteristic of the digital and artificial intelligence era. Notably, digital competences must be incorporated horizontally, across a broad range of disciplines, including the social sciences.
Tackling this challenge requires major changes: universities must figure out how to effectively teach topics related to the digital transformation and may have to give up traditional subjects and topics to make room for new realities. At the same time, universities are themselves profoundly influenced by digitalization, and are expected to function as digitally capable, effective modern organizations that use ICT to improve their functioning and ‘service delivery.’
This concerns not only digital and online teaching and learning (as proved in the context of the COVID pandemic), but also university information systems, infrastructures, internal processes and workflows, and services more broadly.
Digital divides challenge
The inherent digital divides of high-tech society, both within and between countries, pose an important challenge for democratic participation. In this context, some universities are quickly adapting and acquiring respective competences, modernizing their systems and infrastructures, and are adjusting their teaching and research to reflect the needs of the high-tech society. Such universities, typically based in countries that have embraced and successfully implemented digitalization, have a comparative advantage, and will train specialists who, in turn, will contribute to economic, social, and political innovation.
Other universities are less favorably placed to make the required adjustments – including due to structural constrains including national policy and limited funding. They run the risk of falling further behind in global competition, and their graduates are less likely to be able to contribute to innovation and help advance digitalization in their respective countries. Thus, to reduce the digital divides, it is important to share knowledge and create good practices through international cooperation.
Digital threats to democracy
Finally, a challenge posed to the democratic societies in the context of rapid digitalization is the use of new technologies by various malicious actors to influence public opinion, interfere in the decision-making mechanisms, to violate the basic human rights and to support authoritarian control.
Sweden, Ukraine, and Estonia are experiencing such attacks as well, to different extents. Belarus has been subjected to all these recently. Considering the pressure and repression from the state on independent researchers, teachers, and creators of civic tech products, blocking sites and services, Belarus lacks space and a platform for free scientific creativity and academic mobility. At the same, technologies allowed civil society to mobilize against the authoritarian government and find creative ways to resist it.
The purpose of EMDIAC
We wants to establish a long-term and strategic cooperation among Linköping University (Sweden), University of Tartu (Estonia), Dnipropetrovsk University of Technology (Ukraine) and Human Constanta (NGOs employing academics from Belarus), in order to strengthen the partners’ capabilities of designing and providing high quality education, conducting cutting-edge research and promoting innovation in higher education in the context of the digital transformation that affects all aspects of government, economy and society.
In line with this purpose, the following objectives are proposed:
- Building capacity of participating universities to provide high-quality Social Science education and research on topics related to the digital transformation of government, economy and society.
- Exchanging ideas, experiences and best practices in the realm of curriculum reform designed to bring Social Science curricula ‘up to speed’ with the realities of digital state and society.
- Improving online teaching and learning at the participating universities through exchange of experiences and best practices.
- Promoting the modernization of universities as organizations by sharing best practices in the realm of digitalization of processes, workflows, infrastructures, information systems and services
- Reducing digital gaps between universities and, in the longer term, between countries by sharing know-how and best practices, and modernizing higher education to ensure that graduates are prepared to cope and contribute in the increasingly digitalized world.