U21 Presidential Symposium 2024 on Preparing Next-Gen Talent for the Digital Revolution

Group photo of U21 members
U21 Annual General Meeting attendees

As a global university network, U21 are committed to nurturing well-informed, highly educated, globally responsive citizens and leaders of the future. We believe that through fostering collaboration, exchanging knowledge, and enhancing capacity, U21 enables its members to remain at the forefront of international developments in higher education and tackle the grand challenges of our time. 

The digital revolution has significantly transformed the global workforce, creating new challenges and opportunities for universities and students. The increasing use of artificial intelligence, automation and digital technologies in the workplace continues to change the nature of work and the skills required to succeed.

This week, The U21 Presidential Symposium 2024 was held at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), a founding member of the network. The theme of the Presidential Symposium, “Global Universities and the Workforce of the Future”, explored how universities can adapt to the changing needs of society and provide students with the tools they need to succeed in our increasingly digital world.

Photo of Professor Xiang Zhang giving a presentation
Professor Xiang Zhang

In his welcome remarks, Professor Xiang Zhang, President and Vice-Chancellor of HKU, said, “The world today is much different from 10 or 20 years ago…there's tremendous challenge but at the same time it presents opportunities.  What matters is how we cope with it. At HKU, as one of the oldest universities in Asia, we are very much keen for international collaboration. We are therefore setting up more international collaboration platforms for scholars to come together to solve our human race problems.”

The Symposium served as a platform for discussing the role of universities in providing students with cutting-edge technologies, innovative learning opportunities, and digital literacy skills, as well as advanced training in critical thinking and problem-solving.   

Photograph of Professor Brian Schmidt giving a talk
Professor Brian Schmidt

Professor Brian Schmidt, Winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, delivered the keynote address, exploring the challenges and opportunities that genAI presents for higher education over the next couple of decades. Professor Schmidt noted that universities play a crucial role in fostering prosperity by educating future generations to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. Their mission is to conduct research that drives technological advancements, catering to the growing demands of our planet. As a hub for innovative thinking, universities should also aim to foster open discussions on global changes needed to maintain peace and stability.

The symposium also featured four case study presentations showcasing teaching and learning best practices from National University of Singapore, The University of Auckland, University of Glasgow, and Lund University. A panel discussion on "Preparing Students for the Future of Work" concluded the event, featuring prominent figures from the Higher Education sector, including:  

  • Professor Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland 

  • Professor Mary Croughan, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor of the University of California at Davis 

  • Mr Tim Lui, GBS, JP, Chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC) 

  • Mr Derek CHO, final-year Education and Science student at HKU 

“Hosting U21’s annual signature event in Hong Kong reflects not only the importance of HKU to the network, but the significance of Hong Kong, and Asia, to our global network.  As the digital revolution continues to transform the nature of work and the skills required for success, universities have a crucial role to play in preparing students for the future workforce. HKU was the ideal location in which our members could come together to address this issue.”

Professor Jenny Dixon, U21 Provost

U21 would like to extend its thanks to all the speakers and panellists who were incredibly generous with both their knowledge and time and set a great foundation to discuss the grand challenges of our time. Finally, many thanks to HKU for hosting our Annual Meeting and Presidential Symposium this year.

Photo of attendees of the U21 Presidential Symposium
Attendees at the U21 Presidential Symposium